The Taliban* movement stated it was ready to talk with Afghanistan's government only after agreeing with the United States on a schedule for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, Russian Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said.
"They said that they would be ready to talk with the Afghan government only after reaching an agreement with the Americans on the schedule for withdrawing all foreign troops from Afghanistan. As a confidence-building measure, the Taliban have preliminarily demanded the release of all political prisoners and the cancellation of anti-Taliban sanctions imposed on them back in 1997," Kabulov said at a press conference.
The Taliban are ready to take part in the next meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow, Kabulov noted.
"Yes. In principle, the Taliban are ready. They really liked it, they are ready to take part," Kabulov said at a press conference when asked about the prospects for the Taliban's participation in a new meeting of the Moscow format.
The November 9 meeting of the Moscow format on Afghanistan may be considered a breakthrough, because for the first time the Taliban attended it, which is the first step toward further full-format peace talks, according to Russian Foreign Ministry Second Asian Department Director Zamir Kabulov, who also serves as an envoy for Afghanistan.
The US presence does not solve problems in Afghanistan, and Moscow does not compete with Washington in esttablishing a settlement in Afghanistan: the national interests of Russia and its allies are at stake, Kabulov said Monday.
"The United States had enough time, 17 years, to do a lot of what it originally intended. But… If you remember, in 2001 the presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan was zero, today the Taliban control more than 60 per cent of the country — this is the presence of America and NATO in Afghanistan. What kind of presence is this, which does not solve the problem, but contributes to its growth? We do not need such leadership," Kabulov stated.
He contended that the national security interests of Russia and its allies are at stake.
The launch of direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban may be discussed with US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad during his visit to Russia, Zamir Kabulov noted.
“We will see. If he is ready for this, then [we do not rule out]. I cannot suppose in advance,” Kabulov said when asked whether the possibility of launching direct talks between the Afghan authorities and the Taliban movement would be discussed at a meeting in Moscow.
Postponement of Moscow Meeting on Afghanistan to November Was Due to Kabul's Position
"A few words about what we had to face in preparing the event. As you know, it was originally planned to hold the conference in early September, but then in a telephone conversation with [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov, the president of Afghanistan, citing various circumstances, asked to postpone the event for a month in order to work jointly on modality," Kabulov said at a press conference.
The Russian diplomat added that the Afghan authorities did not intend to send an official delegation to the Moscow-format meeting on the Afghan settlement from the early beginning and sent representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council instead.
"In late October, the Afghan authorities, always requesting direct talks, stated, and it was announced by [Afghan President] Ashraf Ghani in phone talks with Lavrov, that [they] were not ready to send an official delegation to [the Moscow] meeting, but suggested sending a delegation of the Afghan High Peace Council. The organisation is technically considered a non-governmental institution, but its leadership is appointed by the Afghan president," Kabulov stated.
On November 9, Moscow held the second round of negotiations on Afghanistan. The talks involved the Afghan High Peace Council, which, according to Afghanistan's foreign ministry, didn't officially represent the country's government; for the first time, the political representatives of the Taliban Islamist group in Doha were invited. Representatives from China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the United States were also invited to join the meeting.
The United States initially launched its military operations in Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attacks.
While most of the US troops had been reportedly withdrawn from the country by the end of 2014, NATO launched a new mission in 2015 to provide training and assistance to the Afghan security forces. Over 16,000 soldiers from 39 NATO countries are currently serving in Afghanistan as part of the mission.
The Afghan government has long been engaged in a conflict with the Taliban movement, along with other terrorist groups operating in the country.