Participants of the conference on Afghanistan read papers in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.
Participants of the conference on Afghanistan read papers in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

ISLAMABAD - The Afghan government seemingly tried to distance itself from a conference in Moscow in which a Taliban delegation publicly appeared for the first time at an international forum. 
Despite a Russian foreign ministry announcement a day earlier that President Ashraf Ghani was sending a delegation of the High Peace Council to the meeting, an Afghan foreign office statement said Friday the government has "not sent any representative to the Moscow meeting.”
The High Peace Council, the statement read, was participating “in its own capacity as a National but non-government institution.”
The conference in Moscow, attended by delegations from 12 countries — as well as the Afghan Taliban — was an attempt to bring together all parties to the Afghan conflict to try to “make a conducive environment to promote a direct dialogue between the government, the Taliban, and wider representatives of other social and political circles of the country,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said opening the meeting Friday morning.  
The United States embassy in Moscow sent a representative to observe the discussions. 
Washington and the Taliban had both stayed away from the first meeting led by Moscow last year in which the Afghan government was officially represented. 
In spite of the Russian government announcing Friday’s conference as the second round, the Afghan statement stressed this was “not a follow-up of the previous meetings (Moscow Format) held among sovereign states, as in today’s meeting the Taliban have also been invited.” 
Afghan reaction to the Moscow gathering may have been prompted by a Taliban statement emphasizing that Kabul was not chairing the conference and that its representatives would not negotiate with the Afghan delegation. 
The statement that was issued by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid asserted it was a nod to the group’s growing international legitimacy.
“With participation in the meeting, the international status of the Islamic Emirate will be strengthened even further,” he said. Islamic Emirate is a name the Taliban used for its government when they were in power in Afghanistan. 
“Such diplomatic efforts of the Islamic Emirate showcase the active, clear and independent diplomacy and policy of the Islamic Emirate in the political field,” the statement said. 
Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative appointed by President Donald Trump to kickstart negotiations with the Taliban, was on a 12-day trip to the region. A state department press release said he intended to visit Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. 
On his previous trip to the region last month, Khalilzad held direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar. A New York Times story said he did not take Ghani into confidence about that meeting. 
“Mr. Ghani and his government heard of that meeting only through news reports, and found out further details not through his American allies — even after he asked — but through a Taliban statement, according to several officials with detailed knowledge of the developments,” the Times story reported. 

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