MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The new round of international talks on settling Afghanistan's drawn-out conflict and Taliban insurgency will for the second time feature a broader scope of regional players than before. The last event was held on February 15 with Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Afghanistan taking part. The sides agreed to increase efforts to promote national reconciliation through regional cooperation with Kabul’s leading role. Previous meetings were held in a narrower format.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said a total of 12 countries were expected to join the consultations. This includes parties from the previous round as well as a number of Central Asian states which have a direct stake in Afghanistan-related security issues.
Pakistan, a key player in the Afghan crisis and also subject to continued cross-border conflict spillovers, has confirmed its participation. A diplomatic source said the country's Deputy Foreign Minister Tasnim Aslam would represent it.
The Afghan government has decided to send several department-level Foreign Ministry officials, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry said its Special Envoy on Afghan Affairs Deng Xijun will arrive to Moscow for the conference.
Kabul has been eyeing a peace deal with the Taliban as the group gained strength and began to overrun large parts of Afghanistan over 2015 and 2016. Previous attempts were abandoned after the death of Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike in neighboring Pakistan.
Allegations have come from US Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel that the upcoming talks were an effort on the part of Russia to appease the Taliban as a counterweight to the emergent and more sinister Daesh. This was dismissed as "absurd" by the Russia Defense Ministry.
In March, Pakistan reportedly hosted several Taliban leaders in an effort to pressure the group into peace talks with Kabul.