Russia is hosting a high-level Taliban delegation for talks attended by officials from China, Pakistan, and eight other countries, as Moscow seeks to assert its influence on Central Asia amid worries about instability or violence spilling from Afghanistan into neighboring countries.
The October 20 conference in Moscow is one of the Taliban’s most significant international meetings since the militants seized control of Kabul from the internationally recognized government in mid-August.
Addressing the gathering, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia recognized the Taliban’s “efforts to stabilize the military and political situation and set up work of the state apparatus,” as extremist groups such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda were trying to “take advantage” of instability.
Moscow considers the formation of a “truly inclusive” government government in Kabul as the only way to bring “stable peace” to the country, Lavrov also said.
The Taliban delegation at the talks, in which the United States is not participating, is headed by the group’s acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi and also includes acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said one of the aims of the meeting was to consolidate the “efforts of the international community to prevent a humanitarian crisis” in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover.
The formation of an “inclusive government” in Kabul would be on the agenda, it said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group would ask the participants for economic assistance and political support.
“Naturally, the conference will focus on economic and political issues, as well as on the problems of security in the region and in Afghanistan,” Mujahid said.
The Russian ambassador to Kabul, Dmitry Zhirnov, told journalists that the issue of recognizing the Taliban-led government won’t be discussed at the meeting.
Moscow moved to engage with the Taliban, hosting its representatives in Moscow several times in recent years, but has stopped short of recognizing the group, which is considered a banned terrorist organization within Russia.
Russia and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors have been wary of an increase of drug trafficking and other security threats emanating from the war-torn country, and the potential for tens of thousands of refugees to pour over the border.
In response, Russia staged military drills alongside ex-Soviet countries neighboring Afghanistan, and reinforced equipment at a military base in Tajikistan.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the Islamic State (IS) extremist group had about 2,000 militants in northern Afghanistan, and claimed that the alleged IS fighters planned to move between ex-Soviet Central Asian countries disguised as refugees in order to stir up religious and ethnic discord.
Moscow fought a disastrous war in Afghanistan in the 1980s that killed up to 2 million Afghans, forced 7 million more from their homes, and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet troops.
With reporting by AFP and TASS