By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan political leaders including former president Hamid Karzai are mulling whether to attend a meeting organised by Russia to jumpstart Afghanistan’s peace process as diplomacy by foreign powers including Washington ramps up.
Russia plans to hold a conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on March 18 and has invited several regional players. It comes at a crunch time for the peace process as a May 1 deadline for foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan looms and the United States reviews its plans.
Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and insurgent Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha have struggled to make progress. Mohammed Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Reuters it had received an invitation from Moscow, but had not yet decided whether to attend or not.
A source close to the Taliban said on condition of anonymity that a team of around four-five members of the Islamist group’s political office in Doha would attend the conference.
Former president Karzai, his former vice-president Karim Khalili as well as former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have received invitations, their spokespeople said. Only Khalili confirmed he would attend.
President Ashraf Ghani and top peace official and former presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah were also considering whether to join the conference, their offices said.
The summit comes at a sensitive time as Ghani faces pressure after U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad proposed plans for a transitional government during a regional visit last week, an option Ghani rejected in a fiery speech over the weekend saying only elections could determine the government.
Khalilzad is proposing a separate conference in Turkey in coming weeks, asking for the United Nations to run it.
Diplomatic sources say the United States, Pakistan and China have also been invited to attend on March 18. The U.S. State Department has said it has “nothing to confirm” on the matter.
A spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment.
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry did not confirm or deny receiving an invitation, but said: “China is actively studying the multilateral meetings on Afghanistan proposed by Russia.”
Afghan leaders invited by Russia to meeting on struggling peace process
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