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KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban are expected to meet with Afghan opposition leaders in Moscow in the coming days. The government of President Ashraf Ghani has found itself excluded from the talks, which seek an end to the 17-year war.

Even as the insurgents say they are close to a deal with U.S. diplomats on core issues, they have refused to meet with the Afghan government. Ghani has repeatedly expressed concern that if the Americans rush to make a deal with the Taliban before the insurgents agree to negotiate with his officials, it could undermine a fragile Afghan state built at tremendous cost.

For the Taliban to go around Ghani to meet with some of the country's major political leaders, many of whom are at odds with him, would likely further anger the Afghan president.

"At this moment, we do not see the need for such a meeting," said Sebghat Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry. "We know it will not help Afghanistan toward reaching peace at all, so it's little more than a political drama."

Officials and members of Afghan political parties said invitations to talks in Moscow, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, had been sent to representatives of a broad cross-section of the country's political elite, including all the major parties. It was not immediately clear who was organizing the event or who would attend.

Some who received invitations said an Afghan diaspora group in Moscow was organizing the talks. But the venue -- the President Hotel, which is owned by the Kremlin -- and the number of visas that would be required suggested that, at the very least, the organizers were working closely with the Russian government.

A senior Afghan official said that Zamir Kabulov, the Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan, was behind the initiative. In several discussions about the possibility of such a meeting, the Afghan government made clear that it would participate in direct talks only with the Taliban, not a situation in which the government was one of several parties at the table, according to the official.

In response to a question about who was organizing the event, a senior Taliban official said it was the Russian Federation.

In public, at least, Russia has sought to distance itself from the talks. Maria Zakharova, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, did not mention them while discussing Afghan developments during a weekly briefing.

Among the many Afghan politicians going to Moscow are Hamid Karzai, the former president, and Atta Mohammad Noor, a former governor and one of the leaders of Jamiat-e-Islami, a major political party, their offices confirmed. Mohammad Mohaqiq, the leader of Wahdat, another major party, is considering attending, his office said.

The Taliban will send representatives from their political office in Doha, Qatar, which has been leading the negotiations with U.S. diplomats, said a spokesman for the office, Suhail Shaheen.

Officials close to Ghani, who is seeking a second five-year term in an election scheduled for July, say the opposition leaders have seen their ability to dispense political patronage reduced by changes introduced by the Afghan president. They accuse opposition leaders of rallying to a rushed peace process because they want a share of power in any interim government formed with the Taliban, even if that means jeopardizing the progress the country has made since the insurgents were driven from power in 2001.

Recent remarks by the Taliban's chief negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, have contributed to such concerns. In a videotaped interview that has circulated in Afghanistan, Stanikzai said the Taliban did not recognize the government and expected the Afghan army to be disbanded after a peace deal, stirring memories in Kabul of the anarchy that followed the Soviet Union's withdrawal.

Stanikzai's remarks may have amounted to a negotiating stance, and he said the Taliban did not seek a political "monopoly" in Afghanistan.

A Section on 02/03/2019

Print Headline: Afghan opposition, Taliban to meet for talks in Moscow

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