KABUL -- Representatives from the Afghan government and the Taliban are set to meet in Moscow on Thursday (March 18) as part of the ongoing peace process, but observers are casting doubt on Russia's intentions at the invitation.
While publicly Moscow claims that it supports peace talks in Afghanistan, the Kremlin's true intentions are murky.
Over the past few years, Russian activity in Afghanistan -- specifically its support for the Taliban -- has been steadily increasing. The Kremlin claims it maintains ties with the group only to counter the regional growth of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and to encourage the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.
However, it is no secret that the Kremlin desires to avenge the former Soviet Union's humiliating defeat in Afghanistan during the Cold War, regardless of the cost paid by the Afghan people.
The Russian regime, under President Vladimir Putin, for years has been providing diplomatic and political support to the Taliban to boost their legitimacy, and also has been funneling weapons and funds to the group to strengthen it militarily.
History of questionable diplomacy
The Afghan Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the meeting in Moscow and a proposed peace conference in Turkey in April are "complementary to the Afghanistan peace negotiations in Doha and not as a substitute to it".
The Taliban confirmed their participation in the Moscow conference with a delegation led by Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Past Taliban junkets to Russia have produced little more than photo opportunities for Taliban leaders.
The Russian regime has publicly hosted Taliban leaders and other Afghan stakeholders in Moscow on multiple occasions, including a January 28 visit that drew the ire of Afghans.
Afghan protesters slammed the Taliban after the January visit to Moscow for continuing to kill innocent Afghans, while the Taliban's political leaders enjoyed their stays at luxury hotels in Moscow and Tehran.
As Sadiq Islamyar, a resident of Herat city, put it, the Taliban have gone to their supporter countries to receive their next orders instead of sitting at the negotiating table with Afghans to put an end to the war.
Russia also invited the Taliban to attend so-called peace talks in Moscow in February 2019. Those talks excluded the Afghan government.
A previous "peace conference" with the Taliban in November 2018 failed in its stated purpose to formalise negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban and instead offered more evidence of splintering among Taliban factions and of Russia's meddling in Afghan affairs.
Also in Syria, Moscow on the surface has attempted to spearhead a number of diplomatic conferences aimed at solving the civil war. The war has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and brought about untold misery for millions more Syrians, yet every peacemaking attempt by Russia failed. Over the years, Russia has become further enmeshed in Syria in pursuit of narrow national interests, while Syrian civilians bear the brunt of the conflict.
Ongoing violence in Afghanistan
At best, Russian political and material support indirectly enables the Taliban to carry out violent attacks throughout Afghanistan, which have resulted in killing or wounding thousands of civilians.
At worst, Moscow knowingly and actively abets the Taliban's unprovoked violence and atrocities.
In either case, aided by foreign support, the Taliban's illegal activities and attacks have spiked in recent months, even as the Afghan government and international community attempt to negotiate a peace deal with the militants in good faith.
In the latest violence, on Tuesday, gunmen with heavy arms opened fire on a bus carrying students and teachers of Baghlan University in Pul-i-Khumri.
"A student and the driver were killed, and six teachers were wounded," said Abdul Qadir Mahan, the university's dean.
On Monday, five women and a child were killed and 17 others were wounded during the evening rush hour in Kabul when a bus carrying Afghan government employees was hit by a bomb, officials said.
The blast was possibly caused by a "sticky bomb" attached to the side of the bus, said Telecommunications Ministry spokesman Nasratullah Naseri.
On Sunday, two blasts ripped through vehicles in Kabul, killing three and wounding more than a dozen, police said.
And on Friday, a car bomb in Herat city killed at least eight people and wounded 47 others, authorities said.
The blast targeted a police headquarters at about 10pm, damaging dozens of houses and shops, said Jilani Farhad, spokesman for the Herat provincial governor.
Women, children and security personnel were among the dead, he said.
President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban for the Herat bombing.
In a statement, he said the Taliban "continued their illegitimate war and violence against our people" and "showed once again they have no intention for peaceful settlement of the current crises".
The Taliban denied responsibility for Friday's blast. No group has claimed responsibility for the other recent terrorist acts.