Two former foreign ministry officials will represent India at an “informal level" on the eve of a key Russia-hosted conference to discuss ways to bring peace to war-torn Afghanistan, at a meet that will have a seat for the insurgent Taliban as well, the government said on Thursday.

The Moscow meeting on Friday will be the first time since 2001 that Indian representatives, in this case former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and head of the government-funded Indian Council of World Affairs think tank T. C. A. Raghavan, will be sitting at the same table as the Taliban. India has been opposed to talks with the Taliban given its links to Pakistan as well as any dialogue with the group that bypasses the Afghan government.

The deputation of two former officials to the Moscow meet betrays New Delhi’s dilemma over dealing with the situation in Afghanistan. Technically it does not want to absent itself from a meeting hosted by Russia, a country seen as a strategic partner, and be left out of a dialogue on the future of Afghanistan, which it considers part of its extended neighbourhood.

At the same time, India is uneasy that the talks are taking place without formal Afghan government participation, with the Taliban in attendence—a move that would bestow on the rebels some kind of international recognition given that it would be sharing a table for formal talks with foreign governments.

“India supports all efforts at peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan that will preserve unity and plurality, and bring security, stability and prosperity to the country. India’s consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the government of Afghanistan," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.

“Our participation at the meeting will be at the non-official level," he said.

In response, the Russian embassy in New Delhi said: “The Russian embassy welcomes Indian as well as other respected countries’ participation in the Moscow format talks. We highly value India’s support in the peace process in Afghanistan."

This is Moscow’s second attempt in recent months to hold a regional forum. A previous attempt in August fizzled out because the Afghan government refused to attend it saying the Taliban should first open talks with it before sitting down with regional countries in a multilateral format. The US and India also pulled out of the talks prompting Russia to postpone the “Moscow format" talks indefinitely.

The Friday talks in Moscow follow a meeting between Taliban representatives and the US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha last month. The meeting drew considerable criticism from Kabul as it did not involve the Afghan government.

The Russian foreign ministry said on Saturday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had decided to send some representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council to the meeting. However, an Afghan foreign ministry official in response to an email said Kabul “will not" be sending a delegation to the Moscow talks. The Kabul government has publicly expressed disapproval of Moscow’s support for the Taliban, as it claims to take on the Islamic State rebels whom Russia considers a greater threat.

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