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SOURCE: ET

India is expected to participate in the October 20 Moscow Format on Afghanistan — the first edition of this dialogue since the Ghani government was overrun by the Taliban on August 15. This meeting in the Russian capital could formally bring New Delhi face to face with the Taliban for the first time since the group announced its interim cabinet.

The Taliban, still outlawed in Russia, have been invited by Moscow to the meeting, ET has learnt. The Taliban have not yet made clear as to who would represent them at the meeting. This will be the first edition of the Moscow Format on Afghanistan since the Taliban stormed to power, with Russia deciding to continue with this format amid calls for an inclusive government in Kabul and measures to prevent terrorists from using Afghan’s territory for cross-border terror attacks. Russia as well as the Central Asian states are worried over the spill over of radical forces.

While India had its first formal contact with the Taliban in Doha on August 31, the Moscow Format will enable the first formal contact between New Delhi and the interim Taliban government in Kabul. The interim cabinet was announced in the September second week.

The Moscow Format launched by Russia is a negotiation mechanism established in 2017 to address Afghan issues. It currently includes India, USA, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian states. It held several rounds of talks in Moscow between 2017 and 2018. In July, India had advised the Taliban to abide by the Moscow Format besides the Doha Format of peace talks.

Several participants of the Moscow Format are worried over the current situation in Afghanistan, Taliban’s lack of skills to govern the country and the precarious state the local economy that may lead to greater instability, according to people familiar with the issue.

Russia, following the Moscow Format, has also decided to convene the next meeting of the Troika Plus — Russia, the US, China and Pakistan — to discuss the latest developments in Afghanistan, ET has learnt.

Moscow is concerned over the movements of Daesh/ISIS in Afghanistan, particularly in the neighbourhood of the Russian Embassy in Kabul, according to a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson. The Moscow Format of talks will expectedly focus on the growing spectre of terror in Afghanistan. This issue figured prominently at the maiden Indo-Russian High-Level Mechanism meet on Afghanistan led by the national security advisers held here last month. The two sides decided to coordinate closely on security threats in Afghan and agreed to enhance cooperation between their intelligence agencies and militaries.

“We call on the Afghan authorities to take additional measures to ensure the security of the Russian diplomatic mission, as well as Russian citizens staying in Afghanistan,” the Russian spokesperson had recently said. The terror group claimed responsibility for a recent attack in Kabul that killed at least 20 people.

Moscow has also warned that in case of escalation along Tajik-Afghan border, Russia will take “most decisive actions”. Russia, which has a security pact with Tajikistan, has reactivated regional security organisation CSTO to deter any cross-border threats emanating from Afghanistan.