India not part of Russian meet on Afghanistan

Expanded ‘Troika’ includes U.S., China, Pakistan, with representatives from Kabul and Taliban.

Published - March 10, 2021 09:21 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova. File Photo

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova. File Photo

Close on the heels of U.S. plans for a United Nations regional conference on Afghanistan, Russia has announced it will hold a conference of special envoys from the U.S., China, and Pakistan, along with representatives of the Afghanistan government, Taliban and other senior Afghan leaders next week.

Unlike the UN-led formulation, however, India has not been invited to the Russian conference, officials confirmed, adding that Moscow has kept New Delhi apprised of the two-year old “Troika” process involving consultations between U.S., Russia and China.

“A regular meeting of the expanded ‘troika’ is scheduled for March 18 in Moscow at the level of special representatives of Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan, dedicated to the intra-Afghan settlement,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova. Apart from the Afghan representatives of the Ghani government and the High Council for National Reconciliation, leaders including former President Hamid Karzai and Qatar’s envoy have also been invited.

“The meeting is expected to discuss ways to assist advancing the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, reduce the level of violence and to end the armed conflict in Afghanistan,” Ms. Zakharova said. A joint statement is expected to be released after the three-day conference.

U.S. yet to take a call

U.S. Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is yet to confirm his participation in the expanded Troika meet, although he was part of at least two meetings of the “Troika plus Pakistan” in 2020. An Afghanistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the composition of the final delegation that would travel from Kabul was under discussion, but that the Ghani government would participate.

The MEA declined to comment on India’s exclusion from the meeting, which would be the first such meeting with Afghanistan and Taliban representatives present, ever since the Doha talks process ran into trouble earlier this year. Diplomatic sources said the Troika process was an “already established mechanism”, and that there was no attempt to “leave India out” of the proposed talks.

The sources said Russia is committed to the path of building “regional consensus” for Afghanistan’s peace process, and that it hopes to include India in the talks framework at a later date.

“India plays a very important role in Afghanistan, and its eventual, deeper involvement in dedicated dialogue formats is natural,” a Russian Embassy release had said on Tuesday, responding to reports that Moscow was trying to “keep India out” of multilateral efforts on Afghanistan.

The expanded Troika meeting plan had been promoted by Russian Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, during a visit to Islamabad in February.

“My leadership has set the task of finding ways that will facilitate the start of inter-Afghan negotiations through consultations within the framework of the enlarged troika. We agreed on such a meeting with the American special envoy [Zalmay] Khalilzad. It can happen in Moscow,” Mr. Kabulov had told Russian news agency Sputnik at the time.

Iran declines offer

Sources said Iran had been invited to join the talks, but declined, given its tensions with the United States on nuclear issues and sanctions.

Officials also said the Moscow “Troika Plus” meeting next week would run “in addition to” and not “counter to” the U.S. proposals for the future roadmap for Afghanistan, that were revealed over the weekend in a letter sent by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.

The proposals include discussions on a ceasefire and power sharing in a “more inclusive” government in Kabul, and indicated that the U.S. is still considering whether to pull out its final 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by May 1 this year. Mr. Blinken suggested a two-track dialogue process — with one track of regional talks led by the United Nations, which would include the U.S., Russia, China, India, Iran and Pakistan, while another track of Intra-Afghan dialogue would be facilitated by Turkey.

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