The Afghan Taliban who have mounted a 17 year war against U.S.-Afghan forces are in Moscow for peace talks that will be a landmark for the group and their Russian hosts.
Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said of the impending meet that he hoped for productive negotiations at the talks, which will bring together a dozen groups including representatives of the Afghan government, regional heavyweights China, Iran and Pakistan, starting September 4.
Moscow has taken an increasingly active role in efforts to persuade the Taliban to enter into a political settlement with the U.S.-backed Afghan government, against which it has mounted a lengthy insurgency.
In July, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered a month long ceasefire with the Taliban, as officials in Kabul and Washington push for an end to the war which has stretched on since the U.S. toppling of the Taliban government in 2001.
The U.S. government did not participate in a similar meeting hosted by the Russian government in April 2017 but the increasing momentum of the Taliban attacks as well as the continuing stalemate seems to have prodded Washington to change its stance.
In July, Senior State Department officials held face-to-face talks with the Taliban in Qatar without representatives of the Afghan government present. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also seemed to back Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's stance towards the Taliban. He said, "We remain ready to support, facilitate, and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. There are no obstacles to talks. It is time for peace."
The Taliban grew out of the U.S. and Saudi-backed Mujahideen movement which fought a long and bloody guerrilla war against the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Despite the fact that Russia does not share a border with Afghanistan, Moscow has in recent months stepped up contact with the Taliban. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, supported the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, but recently American officials have accused Moscow of backing and arming the Taliban.
"We never concealed that we maintain contacts with the Taliban -- it is part of Afghan society," Sergei Lavrov said. "We support these contacts, primarily in the interests of ensuring the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan, Russian institutions, but also to encourage the Taliban to abandon the armed struggle and enter into a nationwide dialogue with the government."
The Taliban is being brought to the table as the armed group today poses a threat to close to 50% of the Afghan government’s control in the country. According to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), as of January 31, 2018, 229 districts were under Afghan government control which is about 56.3 percent of total Afghan districts. There were 59 districts, approximately 14.5 percent completely under rebel control. The remaining 119 districts about 29.2 percent are hotly contested – not controlled by the Afghan government and continuously attacked by the Taliban.
The continued creep of Taliban influence in Afghanistan comes at the end of months of violence and bloodshed across the country. Talks with the Taliban have become imperative as 17 years of war has not been able to eliminate the armed group from the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.