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Russia, US call for Afghan ceasefire during Moscow talks

March 18, 2021

Russia, the United States and several other countries have called for a ceasefire in Afghanistan during peace talks in Moscow. Afghan security forces and government personnel have been targeted in recent attacks.

Afghan government delegates during the Moscow talks
Members of the Afghan government attend peace talks in MoscowImage: Mojib Rahimi

Russia on Thursday hosted a peace conference between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Moscow, as the Kremlin pushes for a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in the war-ravaged nation.

The talks come after negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled in the Qatari capital of Doha, while Turkey is due to hold another peace conference in April.

US, Russia call for Afghan ceasefire

The Moscow talks included US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, along with officials from Pakistan and China. Washington has embraced Russia's role in the Afghan negotiations, forming an unlikely partnership on the issue.

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The US, Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials urged representatives from the Afghan government and Taliban to commit to an immediate ceasefire in a joint statement.

"We call on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to reduce the level of violence in the country and the Taliban Movement not to declare a spring-summer offensive campaign," the statement said.

The parties added that the Afghans should reach a deal "as soon as possible" that would "bring an end to over four decades of war in Afghanistan."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he hopes the Moscow conference will "help create conditions for achieving progressive inter-Afghan relations," warning that "further delays are unacceptable."

Is an interim Afghan government possible?

US President Joe Biden's administration is currently trying to determine whether it would be feasible to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by May 1, in accordance with a deal brokered with the Taliban by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Khalilzad hopes the Afghans will commit to a political settlement that would not only include a ceasefire, but also an interim government.

Afghanistan: The resurgent Taliban

Russia has backed the idea of an Afghan interim government, which could include members of the Taliban. The interim government would remain until elections are held and a new constitution is drafted.

However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has rejected the idea of an interim government, arguing that Afghan leaders should only be chosen through elections. The Taliban has also expressed skepticism towards the idea.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the co-founder and deputy leader of the Taliban, told participants in the Moscow conference that "Afghans should be left to their own fate."

"The world should take into account the Islamic values, independence and national interests of the Afghan people," Baradar said. The Taliban has waged an armed insurgency against the Afghan government since the US invasion in 2001.

Afghanistan struggles with renewed violence

The talks in Moscow come as the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate.

On Thursday, a roadside bomb killed four people on a bus carrying government staff in Kabul, one day after an attack on a helicopter left nine members of the Afghan security forces dead near the capital.

So far, no one has yet claimed responsibility for the roadside bomb or the attack on the helicopter. The Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for recent attacks on government personnel and security forces.

wd/rs (AFP, Reuters)