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Moscow Hosts Taliban For International Talks On Afghanistan

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Members of the Taliban delegation, including its head Abdul Salam Hanafi (third from right) and acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi (center), take part in international talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on October 20.

Russia hosted a high-level Taliban delegation for talks attended by officials from China, Pakistan, and eight other countries, as Moscow seeks to assert its influence on Central Asia amid worries about instability or violence spilling from Afghanistan into the region.

The United States did not attend the meeting.

The October 20 conference in Moscow was one of the Taliban's most significant international meetings since the militants seized control of Kabul from the internationally recognized government in mid-August.

Addressing the gathering, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia recognized Taliban's "efforts to stabilize the military and political situation and set up work of the state apparatus," as terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda were trying to "take advantage" of instability.

The Taliban delegation at the talks was headed by the group's acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi and included acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.

Muttaqi told reporters in Moscow that they were calling on the international community to help stabilize Afghanistan and to provide humanitarian aid, as the country is facing a huge economic crisis with a mainly shuttered banking system and a sharp rise in food prices.

Taliban leaders once again called on the United States to release more than $9 billion of Afghan central bank reserves held outside the country.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said one of the aims of the meeting was to consolidate the "efforts of the international community to prevent a humanitarian crisis" in the aftermath of the Taliban's takeover.

The formation of an "inclusive government" in Kabul would be on the agenda, it said.

In a final statement, the participants noted that “further practical engagement with Afghanistan needed to take into account the new reality, that is the Taliban coming to power in the country, irrespective of the official recognition of the new Afghan government by the international community.”

They reiterated calls for a “truly inclusive” government that “adequately reflects the interests of all major ethno-political forces in the country. The participants also called on Afghanistan’s “current leadership” to respect the rights of ethnic groups, women, and children.

Moscow moved to engage with the Taliban, hosting its representatives in Moscow several times in recent years, but has stopped short of recognizing the group, which is considered a banned terrorist organization within Russia.

Russia and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors have been wary of an increase of drug trafficking and other security threats emanating from the war-torn country and the potential for tens of thousands of refugees to pour over the border.

In response, Russia staged military drills alongside ex-Soviet countries neighboring Afghanistan and reinforced equipment at a military base in Tajikistan.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the Islamic State (IS) extremist group had about 2,000 militants in northern Afghanistan, and claimed that the alleged IS fighters planned to move between ex-Soviet Central Asian countries disguised as refugees in order to stir up religious and ethnic discord.

Moscow fought a disastrous war in Afghanistan in the 1980s that killed up to 2 million Afghans, forced 7 million more from their homes, and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet troops.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, TASS
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