Afghanistan: Kabul government to attend US, Russia peace summits

Afghanistan will take part in separate US- and Russia-backed peace conferences in the coming weeks, Afghan officials said on Saturday.

Months of talks between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban in Qatar have failed to reach a breakthrough. The US and Russia say a power-sharing transition is the first step to ending the violence in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan will take part in separate US- and Russia-backed peace conferences in the coming weeks, Afghan officials said on Saturday.

Russia’s summit will take place on March 18. The US-sponsored one will take place in Turkey in April.

The conferences come as the United States mulls whether to pull its troops from Afghanistan after nearly two decades.

Peace negotiations in Qatar’s capital, Doha ,have failed to reach an agreement; the level of violence in Afghanistan remains high, with many attacks blamed on Taliban insurgents.

“The Afghan government will take part in both the Moscow and Turkey conferences,” said Hamdullah Mohib, the country’s national security council adviser.

What has the Taliban said?

Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the group received an invitation from Russia, but no decision has been taken whether to attend or not.

The hard-line group, removed from power by a US-led invasion in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, has not said whether it will send any representatives to the US-sponsored talks in Turkey.

What about Washington’s withdrawal deadline?

Under a deal struck between the Taliban and the Trump administration in February 2020, the United States committed to pulling out the rest of its troops by May 1, 2021.

But some Afghan officials fear that the move would create enormous security challenges, leaving a vacuum for militants to wreak havoc across the country.

In a letter to President Ashraf Ghani earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said no decision has made on the timeline.

He wrote that the US is “considering the full withdrawal of forces by May 1st as we consider other options.”

Blinken urged Ghani to join US and UN efforts to broker efforts to end the impasse, warning that the Taliban could try to make territorial gains if no peace deal was found.

He echoed calls made by German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in February that the “threat level will rise” if NATO troops leave too soon.

What is Moscow’s proposal?

Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, first floated the idea in an interview with the Sputnik news agency last month.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that invitations had been sent to the US, China and Pakistan, as well as an Afghan government delegation and the Taliban.

Russia, like the US, has called for a transitional power-sharing administration as part of any peace deal.

Zakharova said the negotiations will focus on “ways to help advance inter-Afghan talks in Doha, reduce the level of violence and end the armed conflict in Afghanistan.”

She said Moscow wanted Afghanistan to “develop as an independent, peaceful and self-sufficient state that would be free from terrorism and drug trafficking.”

The US State Department has not confirmed if its diplomats will attend the Russia-hosted talks.

What was the US-Taliban deal?

The Trump administration made bringing US troops home from Afghanistan one of its top priorities.

It signed a deal with the Taliban in February last year that said the US and its NATO allies would leave the country if the Taliban kept to a series of promises.

They included stopping al-Qaida and other groups from operating in areas controlled by the Taliban, attending peace talks and halting attacks on international forces.

But the insurgent group has continued to fight Afghanistan’s government, carrying a series of bomb attacks and killings since the agreement was signed.

As a condition of starting negotiations with the government, the Taliban also demanded that thousands of members be released in a prisoner swap.

Direct talks then began in Doha in September, but negotiators have failed to reach a breakthrough.

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