KABUL -- Recent talks between the Afghan government and Russia on a peace conference in Moscow failed to lead to an agreement, as Russian authorities continue to refuse to recognise Afghan leadership of the peace process.
A Moscow-led conference originally scheduled for September 4 was postponed after Afghanistan and the United States refused to participate. The Taliban had accepted an invitation to the meeting.
An Afghan delegation visited Moscow on September 19 to discuss the details of a new summit.
"The [Afghan] Foreign Ministry delegation, which visited Russia last week, discussed with Russian officials the details about how the Moscow summit should be held, but it definitely was an unsuccessful meeting," Sebghatullah Ahmadi, a spokesman for the ministry, told Salaam Times September 25.
"The [Afghan] delegation shared its demands and opinions with the Russian authorities, and the Russians have shared their views with us. Our delegation, however, did not reach a definitive conclusion with the Russians," Ahmadi said.
"One of our conditions was for Moscow to recognise the ownership and leadership of the peace process of the Afghan government," he said.
Before a meeting can occur, "it is necessary to reach an understanding with the Russians. Some outstanding unresolved issues still exist, and it is not clear as to when and how the Moscow summit is going to be held," he added.
"We welcome any country that wants to help Afghanistan in its pursuit for peace, provided that negotiations are led and owned by the Afghan government," said Ahmadi. "Any country that is interested in co-operating with Afghanistan in the peace process must provide its help and support only through the legitimate government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan."
The many rifts between Kabul and Moscow included issues such as "who would lead the meeting, when would it be held, and what issues would be discussed. As a result, the meeting has not been held," he said.
"Kabul and Moscow have fundamental differences over key issues," said Turiali Ghiasi, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Salaam Times.
"Afghan leaders want countries, including Russia, to push the Taliban to engage in direct negotiations with the Afghan government without these countries leading the peace process," he said. "The [Afghan] government's other request is that the Taliban should not be allowed to participate in international conferences since this gives them legitimacy."
"Another point of contention is that Kabul wants to discuss its peace-related issues at the meeting," said Ghiasi. "But it also wants to lead and manage the meeting. The Russians, however, do not agree with these terms."
Russia's intention in holding the "peace" summit is not meant to establish peace in Afghanistan but to promote its own objectives, Afghan political analysts argue.
"Russia's intention is not to help the Afghan peace process through holding this meeting," Sayyed Hamed Anwari, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Salaam Times.
"Instead, Russia wants to advance its own agenda -- one of which is to dilute existing criticisms against Moscow for its support of the Taliban," he said.
"The Russians insist on holding the Moscow meeting because they want to question the peace efforts made by the Afghan government and the United States," Anwari said.
"Peace negotiations are the national process of Afghans. Russia's insistence on [holding] and leading these talks is against Afghanistan's national and foreign policies," he added.
"The Russians have built a bloc that includes Iran and Pakistan so that they can undermine the Afghan government and... the US effort in Afghanistan, using the support and collaboration they receive from the Taliban," Najibullah Azad, a former deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, told Salaam Times.
"It has become crystal clear that the Russians support the Taliban. Through... such deceptive efforts as holding summits, they want to show other countries around the world that Moscow is in the quest for peace, and not war, in Afghanistan, and it is for that reason that they have forged ties with the Taliban," he said.
"The truth, however, is completely the opposite. Neither Moscow's relationship with the Taliban nor the holding of such meetings is meant to lead to peace," Azad said.
"Afghanistan's international partners, who have backed the Afghan government for the past 17 years in the fight against terrorism, have always said that peace talks should be Afghan led and Afghan owned," he continued.
"Now, the Russians who have not played any role in supporting Afghanistan's fight against terrorism want to hold and lead the summit," said Azad. "This is unacceptable to both the people and the government of Afghanistan."
"The Russians have no right to hold or lead the Afghan peace meeting. If such a summit is held, it will be futile regardless of the participation of the Afghan government," Azad argued.
"Any summit or conference that does not take into account the demands of the Afghan government and those of its international partners is not going to help the peace process," he said. "Rather, it would further complicate the process by introducing new fronts and dimensions to the Afghan war."
Can Russia's efforts help the Taliban and Afghan government reach a lasting peace agreement?