Senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai, and a Taliban delegation held ‘fruitful’ talks about the adoption of a new constitution, interim government and women rights at a meeting in Moscow.
“We are exchanging our views. So this is the first step which we are taking towards peace and inshallah (God willing) in the future we will have more meetings,” said the head of the Taliban delegation, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.
The two-day talks marked the first time the Taliban officially met with high-level representatives, although none of them were part of the government and many were its political opponents.
“We understand that the government in Kabul needs to be part of these negotiations, we wish that they would have been here today,” said Karzai, adding it’s an issue that the Taliban and the government have to resolve.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani dismissed the Moscow talks saying the Afghans attending carried no negotiating authority.
“Where is their executive power?” he asked in an interview with Afghan broadcaster Tolonews.
“Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be paper (agreements) unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan’s national assembly and Afghanistan’s legal institutions,” he said.
‘We don’t want to go back’
The United States said it made progress in its negotiations with the Taliban last month after six days of discussions in Doha.
Ghani was also excluded from those talks but said the US negotiator has kept him fully informed of progress.
In Moscow, human rights advocate Hawa Nooristani and former parliament member Fawzia Koofi, were the first women to take part in any recent Taliban meetings.
“When they (the Taliban) were in power, they would not even let women leave their homes,” Koofi said.
Afghan women are now guaranteed parliament seats, many hold high-level jobs, own businesses and attend school and university.
Koofi urged the Taliban to “listen” to the Afghan people and to adapt to the current Afghan society.
“We have come a very long way and we don’t want to go back.”
The Taliban indicated they want to change the current Afghan constitution they see as invalid because they say it was imported from the West.
“The sovereignty and establishment of an Islamic system conforming to our religious and Afghan values is our legal right,” said Stanekzai.
Stanekzai said the Taliban also has a position on women’s rights.
“The policy of the Islamic Emirate is to protect the rights of women in a way that neither their legitimate rights are violated nor their human dignity and Afghan values are threatened”.
Powerful ex-governor Atta Mohammad Noor suggested one way for a peace process to move forward is to form an interim government that includes the Taliban.
“The interim government will help find a way for a transparent election,” he said, referring to presidential elections scheduled for July.
“It will also help the political factions including the Taliban take part in the process,” Noor said.
Ghani has rejected what he called rumours of an interim government and promised the election would be held on time.
“Ashraf Ghani’s political opponents are trying to equate his government’s unpopularity with illegitimacy,” Ahmed Shuja Jamal, an Afghan analyst based in Washington DC, told Al Jazeera.
“The Ghani government may be unpopular, but it retains its de jure status as the representative entity for the country authorised to conduct foreign affairs.
“Sidelining the government will make it less likely that a peace deal will be struck and, if it is struck, it will be less likely to prove effective.”
The Taliban has repeatedly refused hold direct talks with Ghani calling his goverment “US puppets”.
“The Afghan government is the core of peace talks,” senior Ghani advisor Ziaulhaq Amarkhil told Al Jazeera.
“As long as the core party is not involved in the peace process, no progress or major breakthrough will be made in such meetings.”
He accused the Afghan delegates in Moscow of using the talks to further their own political aims.
As the Moscow were under way, violence across the Afghanistan continued.
The Taliban killed at least 47 security forces and policemen in separate attacks in the northern Kunduz, Baghlan and Samangan provinces.
“Both the US and the Afghan domestic political opposition are giving the Taliban what they always wanted: Talks with the US and with Afghan political elite minus engagement with the Afghan government,” Shuja, the analyst said.
“Right now, the Taliban are winning.”
Afghan peace talks show promise, but who is talking to whom?