All the stakeholders, including India, were also invited. The US declined to participate in the meeting because it said that it will not take part in any event that was not organized under the leadership of the Afghans. According to news reports, Taliban accepted the invitation to participate in Russia-led peace talks. However, the meeting was postponed.
The postponement of the meeting was because the Kabul government wanted direct talks with the Taliban without the involvement of any foreign powers. Russia and the Afghan government are working on a new date for the meeting. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani during his telephonic conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized on the Afghan ownership of the peace process. During the conversation between the Kremlin and Kabul government, both sides have decided on further preparations and effectiveness of the process by jointly hosting the meeting. Russia has not given up on its efforts on holding the meeting.
This paper looks into the reason behind the postponement of the Moscow-led talks and the future of this Russian format.
Talks between the warring parties and the stakeholders have been going on since the last 17 years, without any ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ solution. Russia has been increasing its footprint on the diplomatic front in Afghanistan, especially since 2016.
In December 2016, Russia held its first meeting on Afghanistan along with China and Pakistan in Moscow. Afghanistan and India protested against the meeting as the Kabul government was not invited. During the 2016 meeting, the three countries discussed the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan and expressed particular concern over the increasing activity of extremist groups in the country, including the so-called Afghan wing of ISIS.
During that meeting Russia along with China reaffirmed their readiness to take a flexible approach to exempt ‘certain persons from sanctions lists to establish a peaceful dialogue between the Kabul government and the Taliban’. In 2017, Russia initiated two meetings where Afghanistan, India and other countries who are the main stakeholders were also invited. The US and Taliban were also invited but they declined to participate.
Meanwhile, this year in July, the Taliban met the US administration in Qatar for talks. There is no official statement of this meeting except for media reports. There has been back-channel diplomacy taking place between America and Taliban. Their direct engagement might hamper the Moscow-led talks. And with the recent reset in US-Pakistan relations, role of Russia as an effective mediator might get diluted. Pakistan is being approached by the Trump administration after a lull in their bilateral relations. The two countries have been facing problems regarding Pakistan’s approach towards Afghanistan, including countering India’s position in Afghanistan and Islamabad’s support to groups such as the Taliban and Haqqani Network. The problems between US and Pakistan had led to a cancellation of $300 million aid to the latter in August.
The tension that was brewing between Washington and Islamabad had helped in bringing Russia and Pakistan closer, facilitating Moscow’s growing presence in Afghanistan and the region, including the Kremlin’s engagements with the Taliban. However, with this new development in US-Pakistan relations, Russia’s initiatives in bringing stakeholders including the Taliban to the negotiating table might get affected.
Stability in Afghanistan is important for Russia’s national interest, including the economic initiatives it has undertaken i.e. Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and International North-South Corridor as well as protecting itself and the Central Asian countries from the return of the foreign fighters and Daesh/ISIS from Syria.
In fact, the conflict of interest between Russia and US and other external stakeholders will not help in finding a resolution in Afghanistan, no matter how many peace talks in whatever format are held. The benefactor of this quagmire will be Taliban and the other extremist groups, supported by the countries who are sponsoring them.
* Dr. Indrani Talukdar, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the Researcher and not of the Council.
President Ghani on 28 February offered to invite the Taliban for direct and formal peace talks with the Afghan government. The offer was made without preconditions. The offer recognizes the role of the Taliban in Afghan politics and seeks to proceed toward a comprehensive peace agreement. “An Unprecedented Peace Offer to the Taliban”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, May 15, 2018. https://www.mfa.gov.af/ebooks-and-articles/an-unprecedented-peace-offer-to-the-taliban.html Accessed on October 18, 2018. The offer for direct talks without any precondition is a change from the Kabul government’s position till 2017. In June 2017, President Ghani offered peace talks to the Afghan Taliban by reiterating his preconditions. The preconditions were such as recognition of the Afghan constitution, continuity of the reforms of educating and advancing the rights of women, and renunciation of violence and linkages with terrorist groups. The Taliban rejected Ghani’s offer by stating that it is another attempt to endorse and prolong foreign occupation of Afghanistan. Sajjad Shaukat, “US, Reviving Talks with the Afghan Taliban without Pre-conditions”, Kashmir Watch, October 14, 2018. http://kashmirwatch.com/us-reviving-talks-afghan-taliban-without-pre-conditions/ Accessed on October 18, 2018.
Javed Hamim Kakar, “Moscow talks on Afghanistan peace postponed”, Pajwok Afghan News, August 27, 2018. https://www.pajhwok.com/en/2018/08/27/moscow-talks-afghanistan-peace-postponed Accessed on October 18, 2018.
“Meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow delayed, says Afghan government”, TASS, August 27, 2018. http://tass.com/world/1018809 Accessed on October 18, 2018.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, December 27, 2018. http://www.mid.ru/en/web/guest/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2581141 Accessed on October 24, 2018.
Washington declined the invitation by saying that the new US administration lacked an Afghanistan strategy at the time. “Russia accuses US of hypocrisy towards Afghanistan”, Business Standard, August 22, 2018. https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/russia-accuses-us-of-hypocrisy-towards-afghanistan-118082200907_1.html Accessed on October 23, 2018.
During a meeting between the Russian foreign minister and his Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif in the month of February, the latter pointed towards the proliferation of the IS into Afghanistan, a concern shared between Pakistan, Russia, and the Central Asian nations. According to him, the IS in Afghanistan outnumbers the Taliban, which the Afghan government and the US are ignoring.