MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Taliban official said on Thursday that decent progress had been made at talks with a group of senior Afghan politicians in Moscow but that there had been no breakthrough in their bid to end 18 years of war and that further talks would be needed.
The delegation, led by chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund, met politicians, including senior regional leaders and candidates challenging President Ashraf Ghani in this year’s presidential election amid gathering diplomatic efforts to end the war.
“We are satisfied, that was successful negotiations, and we hope to continue this tempo in the future,” Mohammad Sohail Shaheen, the chief spokesman for the Taliban delegation, told reporters after the meeting.
The meeting between senior Taliban officials and a diverse group of politicians was the latest step in efforts to reach a peace settlement.
Shaheen said a ceasefire proposal had been discussed but he gave no details. He also repeated the Taliban demand that international forces must leave Afghanistan for any peace deal.
“We will be firm: withdraw the foreign troops, we will be firm that there should be a stable government in Afghanistan and that all Afghans should have participation in future government,” he said.
Speculation has been growing that the Taliban could agree to a temporary ceasefire over the three-day Eid holiday next week to follow a truce last year that gave the first concrete glimpse in years of what peace could be like in Afghanistan.
One member of the Taliban delegation said Russian officials as well as religious leaders and elders had asked for a ceasefire. While the insurgents would probably order a halt in the fighting, it was unlikely that any ceasefire would be announced publicly.
“Still some more meetings to take place in this regard but most probably we may not announce a ceasefire,” the Taliban official said.
The Taliban have been talking for months with U.S. diplomats to agree the withdrawal of more than 20,000 international troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees the country would not be used as a base for militant attacks.
But they have so far refused to deal directly with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they consider an illegitimate foreign-appointed regime.
On the other side, there is widespread suspicion among many on the government side and among civil society groups that any deal with the Taliban could see a rollback of advances in areas like human rights and the status of women made since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001.
Fawzia Koofi, a prominent women’s rights activist and former member of parliament who attended the meeting in Moscow, tweeted: “End of any war is peace but that doesn’t mean surrendering to Taliban Islamic Emirates.”
Even as the meetings took place, a suicide attack in Kabul that killed at least six people underlined the violence that continues unabated across the country.
Separately, Afghan Special Forces also freed 28 people held in a Taliban prison in the southern province of Zabul.
Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in KABUL and Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR; writing by Tom Balmforth and James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Osborn and Nick Macfie