Taliban Says It Will Attend Afghan Peace Talks in Russia

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Taliban Says It Will Attend Afghan Peace Talks in RussiaAfghanistan’s Taliban insurgents confirmed on Wednesday that they would send emissaries next month to peace talks in Russia, a diplomatic twist in repeated efforts to settle the 17-year-old war.

The Taliban’s acceptance of an invitation by Russia to the Sept. 4 talks planned in Moscow was a reversal for the group, and came after the government of Afghanistan and its main supporter, the United States, declined invitations to attend.

In a message to The New York Times bureau in Kabul, the Taliban said through a spokesman that the chief of its political office in Qatar would lead a delegation to the Moscow talks.

How such talks would proceed without all parties present is unclear. But the outreach by Russia has threatened to disrupt diplomacy undertaken by Afghan and American officials.

For months, those officials have been pushing to persuade the Taliban to engage in negotiations in hopes of ending the conflict. Taliban leaders, who have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Afghanistan government, have said they would only negotiate with the Americans first.

American diplomats met with Taliban representatives recently in Qatar in hopes of changing its precondition for talks.

The Taliban’s acceptance of the Russian invitation came more than a year after it rejected a similar entreaty from the Kremlin.

The American military has claimed that Russia has worked surreptitiously with the Taliban. In a March interview with the BBC, the American commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson, accused the Russians of “destabilizing activity” by supplying arms and equipment to Taliban fighters. The Russians responded by accusing the United States of responsibility for the protracted crisis in Afghanistan.

Russia and the Taliban are not obvious allies and have many reasons to distrust each other. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and occupied it for 10 years before withdrawing, humiliated by mujahedeen fighters backed by the United States.

Many of those fighters joined the Taliban, which later gained control of the entire country until the American-led invasion in 2001 evicted them from power.

Original Article

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