Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai Hamid Karzai
© Reuters/Maxim Shemetov
Taliban envoy Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai and former President Hamid Karzai, Moscow, Russia February 5, 2019.
Representatives of the Taliban met with other Afghan delegates in Moscow to discuss the prospects of peace and the removal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. Among those present was the first US-backed president Hamid Karzai.

The Taliban were represented by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, a former mujahideen fighter who has led the movement's office in Qatar since 2012. Several members of the Afghan diaspora in Russia, as well as former government officials from Afghanistan, also attended. The government of President Ashraf Ghani is boycotting the talks, however, having rejected the Taliban's key condition for peace: that all foreign troops have to leave Afghanistan.

Though Russia considers the Taliban a terrorist organization, Stanikzai was optimistic that the talks would go a long way to change Moscow's mind.

"We are fighting only for freedom of Afghanistan and just to remove the foreign forces from Afghanistan," Stanikzai told RT's Maria Finoshina on Tuesday. "We will bring peace in our country, we have no other agenda."

Last month, Stanikzai met with US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, hoping to lay the groundwork for the eventual US withdrawal after over 17 years of war. He called the meeting a "great achievement" and described it as "successful" and "very good." Some progress was made on at least two points, and technical groups were discussing things further, he told RT.

Asked how soon he would like to see foreign troops gone, Stanikzai said, "We hope it will not take long years. Maybe months."

In addition to departure of all foreign troops, the Taliban are demanding the end of US bombing of civilians, a constitution that would respect the interests of all the people of Afghanistan, and guarantees for human rights and the rights of women.

This was not Stanikzai's first contact with the Americans. In 1996, he traveled to Washington as the Taliban's acting foreign minister, to request diplomatic recognition from the Clinton administration.

Washington ended up not recognizing the Taliban and blamed it for harboring Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. US troops invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to overthrow the Taliban and hunt down Bin Laden.

Bin Laden was eventually located in neighboring Pakistan and killed in a May 2011 raid. However, the US war against the Taliban in Afghanistan continued, even as the Washington-backed government in Kabul continued to lose territory and troops.

Karzai, who was the first president of Afghanistan under US and served till 2014, admitted the absence of Kabul officials from the Moscow talks was not helping the peace process, but remained hopeful.

"Let us not speak about those things. We hope they'll be all there some day, with us," he told RT.