Moscow hosts peace conference on Afghanistan; India attends at ‘non-official level’

Traditional village heads take out a rally in Nagaland

New Delhi/Moscow:

India Friday attended in a “non-official” capacity a conference on bringing back peace in Afghanistan, which was hosted by Russia and participated by the Taliban as well as representatives from several countries including Pakistan, China and Iran.

Hours after the multi-lateral conference began in Moscow, India made it clear that its participation was in sync with its Afghan policy and asserted that attending the meeting was not talking to the Taliban at all.

In his opening remarks at the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and the countries of the region will continue to do everything possible to launch dialogue between Afghan government and the Taliban, which is banned in Russia.

“We are determined to make every possible effort to facilitate the opening of a new page in the history of Afghanistan,” he was quoted as saying by the state-run Tass news agency.

Lavrov said the conference was “aimed at building an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue in order to advance the national reconciliation process”.

The US Embassy in Moscow has sent a diplomat to observe Friday’s discussions at the meeting which is being attended by representatives from Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, Pakistan and some other countries.

India’s former envoy to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan T C A Raghavan were representing New Delhi at a “non-official” capacity.

Asked why India sent representatives to the meeting when the Taliban was participating in it, spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Raveesh Kumar said in New Delhi that India will be part of any peace process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.

“We will participate in any process which is consistent with the policy we have for Afghanistan… It was decided by the government that our participation will be at non-official level,” he said.

To a question on participation of Taliban in the meeting, he said, “Where did we say that there will be talks with Taliban? We did not say that.”

“In our policy on Afghanistan which we have articulated and which has been consistent for quite sometime that we will be supportive of any process in Afghanistan is a party to the process,” said Kumar.

India’s consistent policy has been that the peace talks should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the government of Afghanistan.

Initially, the meeting was proposed for September 4 but it was called off after the Afghan government pulled out of it. India had also declined an invitation to the meeting then.

The Afghan government is learnt to have sent the country’s High Peace Council.

In his address, Lavrov said all countries of the region and the entire international community would like to see Afghanistan as a peaceful, independent and prospering country, free of terrorism and drug trafficking.

At the same time, he said Afghanistan should not be used for “geopolitical games” and stressed the importance of preserving territorial integrity of the country.

“Russia supports the preservation of a united and indivisible Afghanistan in which all ethnic groups populating the country could live peacefully and happily. I have no doubts that the other participants of the Moscow format share this approach and that we all go by basic national interests of the Afghan people,” he said.

The Moscow conference comes a month after the Taliban held talks with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is tasked with finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s bloody war.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, invitations to take part in the event had been sent to Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, Pakistan, the US and some other countries.

India has been actively engaged in reconstruction activities in war-ravaged Afghanistan and has already spent USD 2 billion in various projects there.

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