Russia hosts Afghan talks as US exit deadline looms
Russia on Thursday was hosting faltering Afghan peace talks, hoping to cement its role as a powerbroker ahead of a looming deadline for US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The conference in Moscow is part of intensifying negotiations between the Afghan government, the Taliban and the United States in Qatar to negotiate Washington's exit and end decades of war.
The United States is supposed to complete a withdrawal of all its troops from Afghanistan by May 1 as part of a deal with the Taliban - a deadline US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday would be "tough" to meet.
Washington also wants to jump-start the peace process and get the Taliban and Afghan government to agree to some form of power-sharing.
The Kremlin, which pulled Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 after a bruising occupation, last week threw its weight behind Washington's initiative for an interim government that included the Taliban.
"We hope that today's conversation will help create conditions for achieving progressive inter-Afghan negotiations," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the onset of the conference.
But the talks initiated in Doha last September have made little progress and their outcome is uncertain.
Meanwhile urban centres in Afghanistan are in the grip of a bloody campaign in the form of attacks targeting politicians, civil servants, academics, rights activists and journalists.
"In a degrading military-political situation, further delays are unacceptable," Lavrov said on Thursday.
The United States, despite tensions with Russia, has welcomed Moscow's role and also consulted fellow rival China as diplomacy steps up.
Pakistan -- which holds the most outside influence over the Taliban -- is also represented in Moscow.
Analysts have said the Moscow conference is largely a curtain-raiser for an even bigger gathering to be held in Turkey next month.