On September 29, 2023, the fifth meeting of the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan at the level of special representatives and senior officials from China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan was held. The meeting was also attended by acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan Amir Khan Muttaqi. Representatives of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Turkey were there as Guests of honor.[i]
The Moscow Format was established in 2017 as a regional platform for consultations between special envoys of Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, and Pakistan to promote peace, stability and facilitate national reconciliation in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Later, five Central Asian nations also joined the diplomatic outreach.
Agenda of the Moscow Format
The meeting agenda included the pressing need to address the complex situation in Afghanistan, focusing on regional security, economic development, humanitarian aid, inclusive political order and narcotics trade. The event marked an opportunity for key players to discuss the way forward for the war-torn country. At the meeting, the participants shared their perspective on the current challenges in Afghanistan, emphasizing regional security concerns and the nation's role in regional economic initiatives. The need to intensify counter-terrorism and anti-drug efforts was highlighted as well, with all attendees committing to continued humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. There was a call for the release of Afghan assets by the US and its allies who are expected to bear primary responsibility for the country’s post conflict reconstruction. The meeting concluded with adopting the "Kazan Declaration of the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan."[ii]
Key Takeaways from Kazan Declaration
First, the participants of the Moscow-format meeting repeated their previous demands that the Taliban form a “truly inclusive government” and accord equal rights and freedoms to all Afghans, including women. The Kazan Declaration mentioned “[The participants] regretfully stated that there had been no progress in forming a truly inclusive government in Afghanistan, reflecting the interests of all ethno-political groups of the country.”[iii] The Declaration urged the Afghan authorities to engage in constructive dialogue with representatives of alternative ethnic and political groups to facilitate a peaceful resolution and the creation of a more inclusive, accountable, and responsible government.
Second, the participants expressed profound concern about Afghanistan's challenging security environment, particularly the growing activities of terrorist groups, notably ISIS. They appreciated the Taliban authorities for their efforts in combating ISIS. They urged them to take effective measures “to dismantle, eliminate and prevent placement of all sorts of terrorist groups based in Afghanistan”[iv] and to prevent the country from becoming a hotbed of instability and terrorism threatening regional stability.
Third, the meeting noted the reports about the reduction in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan as a result of steps taken by the current authorities. Emphasizing the significance of an authentic and effective anti-drug policy, they called for tackling industrial drug production, recognizing the gravity of this challenge. Further, attendees called for enhanced cooperation between the current Afghan authorities and regional countries in combating terrorism and drug trafficking stemming from Afghan territory, firmly opposing any external support for terrorism within Afghanistan.
Fourth, the participants also “gave assurances to continue providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan” and emphasised the need to “strengthen bilateral and multilateral economic ties.”
Finally, the Declaration noted Iran's proposal to enhance regional cooperation on Afghanistan through the establishment of a regional contact group to address shared interests.
In August, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Spokesperson for the Taliban Administration, had acknowledged the importance of the meeting as a mechanism that can reduce differences between Afghanistan and other countries through dialogue stating that “At the meetings, there should be a spirit of cooperation with Afghans and resolving conflicts through dialogue. Afghanistan prefers that all problems, concerns, or demands should be shared with us and discussed directly.”[v] Reportedly, Muttaqi met the special representatives of China and Pakistan, Yu Xiang and Asif Durrani, together, and discussed the security situation and border tensions with Pakistan. He also met delegations from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.[vi]
So far, no country has recognized the Taliban regime as a legitimate government, but all the Moscow Format countries and representatives from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, who attended as observers, maintain Missions in Kabul. While India closed its Embassy when the Taliban seized power in 2021, it reopened it in June 2022, to house a ‘technical team’ that oversees the distribution of humanitarian assistance in the country. China recently became the first country to formally name a new envoy to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021.
It is widely acknowledged that the issues of Afghanistan have taken a backseat after the Ukraine conflict, but it is important for the regional countries to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a forgotten crisis. The Moscow Format of dialogue is one of the key forums for the engagement with the Taliban. Significance of the format is enhanced by the fact that all the key regional countries as well as the representative of the current regime in Afghanistan came together to discussed the way forward for the country and acknowledged certain constructive steps of the current Afghan authorities. Although crucial issues such as inclusive political order, women’s rights, regional security, counter terrorism and anti-drug efforts were flagged in the meeting, however, it failed to make any major headway on those issues or extract any promise from the Taliban representatives on a timeline for action on those matters. Therefore, it can be argued that although the fifth Moscow Format Consultation was crucial in terms of the international community’s engagement with Afghanistan, it may only be seen as a step by the regional countries to address issues related to Afghanistan.
*Dr. Anwesha Ghosh is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] “Russia: India participates in 5th meeting of Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan in Kazan.”ANI, 30 September 2023.Available at: https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/russia-india-participates-in-5th-meeting-of-moscow-format-consultations-on-afghanistan-in-kazan20230930184516/ (Accessed on 3. 10.23)
[ii] “Kazan Declaration of the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan, Kazan, September 29, 2023.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 29 September 2023. Available at: https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1906997/ (Accessed on 3. 10.23)[iii] “Kazan Declaration of the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan, Kazan, September 29, 2023.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 29 September 2023. Available at: https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1906997/ (Accessed on 3. 10.23)
[v] “Moscow Format Meeting on Afghanistan to Take Place in September”. The Tolo News, Aug 1, 2023. Available at: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan-184451. (Accessed on 3.10.23)
[vi] “Muttaqi meets Chinese and Pakistani Envoys on sidelines of Moscow format.”Ariana News, Sep 30, 2023. Available at: https://www.ariananews.af/muttaqi-meets-chinese-pakistani-envoys-on-sidelines-of-moscow-format. (Accessed on 3.10.23)