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India, Taliban to meet today at Moscow Format in Russia

The Moscow Format meeting, which will be attended by representatives from 10 countries of the region and the Taliban delegation, will be addressed by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov
Taliban fighters guard Serena hotel, which is popular with foreigners in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Updated on Oct 20, 2021 08:10 AM IST

An Indian delegation and Taliban officials will come face-to-face at the “Moscow Format” meeting hosted by Russia on Wednesday, with discussions expected to focus on the security situation and formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan.

The dialogue between the Taliban and 10 regional countries will be held a day after the US pulled out of a meeting of the “extended troika” hosted by Moscow on Tuesday. Only special representatives from Russia, China and Pakistan – the other members of the extended troika – participated in the meeting.

The special representatives of Russia, China and Pakistan exchanged views on “common security threats [and] expressed their joint interest in providing Afghanistan with urgent humanitarian and economic assistance”, the Russian foreign ministry said.

The US state department said on Monday the American special representative would not participate in the extended troika talks due to logistical reasons. On Tuesday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan who has taken some of the blame for the Taliban’s return to power, stepped down from the position.

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The Indian delegation to the third Moscow Format meeting will be led by JP Singh, the joint secretary who heads the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk in the external affairs ministry. The possibility of informal contacts between the Indian team and the Taliban on the margins of the meeting in Moscow has not been ruled out.

The Moscow Format meeting, which will be attended by representatives from 10 countries of the region and the Taliban delegation, will be addressed by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

The meeting will “discuss prospects for development of the military-political situation in Afghanistan and the formation of an inclusive government”, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

“Participants will also touch upon the issues of consolidating efforts of the international community to prevent a humanitarian crisis in [Afghanistan].

Following the meeting, it is planned to adopt a joint statement,” the ministry added.

The Moscow Format was established in 2017 as a six-party mechanism involving Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, China and Pakistan. It was later expanded with the inclusion of more countries and meetings were held in Moscow in 2017 and 2018.

Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special presidential envoy for Afghanistan, said on October 15 that Moscow intended to have a frank discussion with the Taliban during the Moscow Format meeting, but no “breakthrough decisions” were expected.

The Russian side intends to “hold a sincere conversation behind closed doors with the representatives of the new Afghan leadership” and “convey our objections to the Afghan delegation”, Kabulov was quoted as saying by state-run TASS news agency. “We do not expect any breakthrough decisions, this is a long evolutionary process, we are proceeding from this understanding,” he said.

Kabulov further said the discussions will focus on human rights issues and the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. He added that fighting drug trafficking and terror threats related to Afghanistan remain a priority for Russia and other countries.

The Indian government has cautioned the world community against rushing to recognise the Taliban setup in Kabul, pointing out the change of power in Kabul was not inclusive and was done without negotiations.

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