Taliban envoys have taken part for the first time in a high-level global talks, meeting Afghan officials in Moscow as part of a Russian-sponsored peace effort.
Facing a barrage of questions on its sudden shift in policy on attending talks with the Taliban, the Centre on Friday clarified that its delegation at the second 12-nation "Moscow format meeting of consultations on Afghanistan" would not hold direct talks with the insurgent group there.
"This conference was not about direct talks", Taliban spokesman Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai told journalists in translated comments quoted by Interfax news agency.
The Taliban said they would continue direct negotiations with Washington, which have been spearheaded by the United States diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad.
In August, the Afghan government announced that Afghanistan and Russian Federation would co-chair proposed future talks in Moscow on Afghanistan's peace.
The Taliban has refused direct talks with the Afghan government, which it views as a US puppet, saying it will only negotiate the end of the 17-year war directly with Washington.
Russian Federation says the Moscow talks marked the first time that a Taliban delegation had taken part in such high-level global meeting.
"We confirmed to them [Taliban representatives] that we are ready to go on negotiations without conditions", he said.
At the same time, India is uneasy that the talks are taking place without formal Afghan government participation, with the Taliban in attendence-a move that would bestow on the rebels some kind of worldwide recognition given that it would be sharing a table for formal talks with foreign governments. "The meeting in Moscow helped move things in this direction".
The Moscow meeting took place as USA special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad prepared for a fresh round of talks with Taliban officials in Qatar. "Therefore, we won't hold negotiations with it. Kabul didn't even send a representative to this conference". The meeting drew considerable criticism from Kabul as it did not involve the Afghan government. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has sent a diplomat to observe the discussions.
US President Donald Trump launched a revised Afghan plan more than a year ago that saw the US scrap any timetables for a US pullout and re-commit thousands more troops to Afghanistan, a lot of them dedicated to training and advising local forces.
Initially, the meeting was proposed for September 4 but it was called off after the Afghan government pulled out of it. India had also declined an invitation to the meeting then.
The meeting comes at a sensitive time.
The Taliban's attendance will bolster the group's global status, while the meeting gives Moscow the chance to influence peace efforts until now dominated by Washington. "It is clear that on the way to this goal it is necessary to overcome a lot of obstacles, including mutual grievances and mistrust accumulated by the parties", he said, adding that the objective of the talks was to create conditions favourable to "direct negotiations between the [Ghani] government, the Taliban Movement and representatives of the country's broad public and political circles".