ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - The U.S.-backed Afghan government announced Wednesday it does not plan to attend next month's multi-nation conference in Russia on the future of Afghanistan, while the Taliban insurgency confirmed to VOA it has accepted the invitation and will send a delegation to event.
Moscow has invited, besides Kabul and the Taliban, 11 key regional countries — including China, Pakistan and Iran — to take part in the September 4 meeting in the Russian capital.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sibghatullah Ahmadi confirmed to VOA on Wednesday the government has decided against sending its delegation to the talks in Russia, but he did not cite any reasons.
Afghan officials reportedly are upset because Moscow did not consult them before extending an invitation to the Taliban.
Ahmadi stopped short of confirming those reports, saying the "Islamic government of Afghanistan should be a focal point of any developments that are happening around the world about Afghanistan."
He insisted Kabul has "very good cordial" relations with Moscow and both the countries always consult each other on all issues, "particularly those related to the Afghan government-led peace and reconciliation process."
Spokesman Ahmadi asserted that "any discussions that are organized outside the government-led peace process will not yield results."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday an invitation has been extended to the Taliban and the insurgent group plans to attend.
"Representatives of the Afghan leadership and the Taliban were invited to the meeting. Their first reaction was positive, and they plan to participate. I hope it will be a productive meeting," said the top Russian diplomat.
The Taliban confirmed to VOA on Wednesday that insurgent political negotiators will travel to Moscow to participate in the daylong conference.
"The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] has accepted the invitation and it will send delegation led by the head of our Political Office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai and will present the Islamic Emirate's stance regarding the Afghanistan problem and its solution," said Taliban Zabihullah Mujahid.
It will be the first time in several years the Taliban would officially participate in such an event and will be a major breakthrough for Russian diplomacy.
Russia defends its contacts with the Taliban, saying it is trying to encourage the insurgents to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government to bring an end to an increasingly deadly war in the country.
"We maintain these contacts primarily for the sake of the security of Russian nationals in Afghanistan, Russian agencies there, and also to convince the Taliban to renounce armed conflict and join the national dialogue with the government," Lavrov said.
But he rejected Afghan assertions that Moscow's ties with the Taliban are meant to use the insurgency to fight Islamist State militants who are trying to expand their influence in Afghan areas beyond the control of the Kabul government.
"I cannot imagine how Russia even hypothetically could use the Taliban against ISIS," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State. "We are fighting ISIS with every tool we have. We support Syria in this fight and provide assistance in equipping the Iraqi army for the same purpose. Of course, we want the Afghan people to get rid of ISIS."
The Taliban operates its so-called "Political Office" out of Doha, Qatar, where Stanikzai is based. The Taliban negotiator traveled to Uzbekistan and Indonesia earlier this month for talks with top leaders in the two countries.
But the Afghan government did not object to those trips, saying the host nations had sought prior approval from Kabul before entertaining the Taliban delegations.