India on Thursday said it will participate at a "non-official level" in the multilateral peace talks hosted by Russia where representatives of the Taliban will be present. The talks, known as 'Moscow format', which will be held Friday, will be attended by representatives of the Afghan Taliban radical movement and a delegation of the Afghan High Peace Council, which is a government-appointed body overseeing efforts to initiate talks with Taliban.
“We are aware that the Russian Federation is hosting a meeting in Moscow on 9 November on Afghanistan,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar. “Our participation at the meeting will be at the non-official level.”
India supports all efforts at peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan that will preserve unity and plurality, and bring security, stability and prosperity to the country, he said. "India's consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the government of Afghanistan," Kumar asserted.
The Russian government welcomed India’s decision to participate in the talks. “We highly regard Indian support in the peace process in Afghanistan and welcome Indian readiness and that of other partner countries in the Moscow format,” the Russian Embassy said in a statement on Thursday.
Taliban only to 'partake', will not discuss peace
While the Taliban has officially confirmed it will attend the meeting, a spokesman for the insurgent group told Voice of America that its delegates will not engage in any Afghan peace and reconciliation talks at the gathering.
Zabihullah Mujahid said, as quoted by VOA, “This conference is not about negotiating with any particular side, rather it is a conference about holding comprehensive discussions on finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary and ending the American occupation."
Moscow shows readiness for peace talks
This is for the second time Russia is attempting to bring regional powers together while discovering ways for establishing peace in war-torn Afghanistan.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, invitations to take part in the event had been sent to 12 countries including Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, Pakistan, and the US. The meeting comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks a host of global issues.
The first round of the Moscow format was held in April last year. Joint Secretary in charge of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran Deepak Mittal had represented India at the meeting. The second round, which was to be held on September 4, was postponed after the Afghan government cancelled its participation. India too withdrew from the talks, saying it would be untenable for an Indian representative to share the table with a Taliban delegation when Afghanistan’s government is not participating.
Will Kabul make progress against the Taliban?
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani -- who took office in 2014 as US-led NATO combat troops withdrew from Afghanistan -- announced Saturday that he will seek re-election in 2019.
He is expected to present himself to war-weary voters as the only candidate who can end the 17-year conflict in the country.
A US government watchdog this week said Kabul's control of Afghanistan slipped in recent months as local security forces suffered record-level casualties while making minimal or no progress against the Taliban.
The US has renewed efforts to engage the Taliban in peace talks, which are showing tentative signs of bearing fruit.
Taliban representatives have met with US officials at least twice in Qatar in recent months, most recently on October 12 with newly appointed US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
(With inputs from AFP and PTI)