Russia’s growing interest in Afghan affairs is apparent from Moscow’s hosting of peace talks. The recent talks on ‘peace in Afghanistan’ were held in Moscow in the middle of April. Representatives from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan participated in the talks. Earlier, similar initiatives include the Trilateral Dialogue between Moscow-Islamabad-Beijing and a round of consultations in Moscow, in which China, Pakistan, India, Iran and Afghanistan participated. Moscow supports negotiations with the Taliban. As per the statement of the Russian foreign ministry, “A call has been sent to the Taliban movement to abandon its line for a military solution of the Afghan conflict in favour of direct talks with the Afghan government.”
The situation in Afghanistan has been a source of concern for regional as well as global players. Since the war against terrorism, the security situation in the country has continued to worsen, with no worthwhile progress on the political and economic sides. The recent peace efforts in Afghanistan should not be seen in isolation, the stakeholders in the talks are regional players. Russia, China, Central Asian states and Pakistan have borne the brunt of Afghan wars, due to geographic proximity. The presence of Daish elements in Afghanistan has further heightened the security threat and concern for regional actors.
The materialization of Central-South inter-regional connectivity cannot be possible without peace in Afghanistan. The upcoming China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is yet another endeavour, linking China, Pakistan, Central Asia, Caucasus and Russia but peace in Afghanistan is a must. The regional states desirous of progress will have to look for a collaborative approach focusing towards economic/regional cooperation. The talks on Afghanistan might be instrumental in bringing the regional players to a negotiating table, dissuading the mistrust and fostering regional integration.
The US and Nato role in Afghan affairs is crucial. A day before the talks in Moscow, the US dropped a bomb on Daish hideouts in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The Resolute Support Mission deployed in Afghanistan has 13,000 Nato troops, including 8,400 of the US. These troops are involved in training Afghan security and defence forces. The US and Nato being significant players in Afghanistan were not present in either of the talks. During the first two rounds of the talks, Moscow did not invite the US, while in the third round an invitation was sent. According to US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, “It seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region that we felt was not constructive at this time.”
The lack of participation from the US and Nato signals a divergent stance. The US views the Taliban as a major source of instability in Afghanistan. While Russia is opposed to Daish’s ingress in the country and through cooperation with the Taliban wants to isolate the evil threat. According to Afghan President’s National Security Adviser, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, “Moscow supports talks with the Taliban, aimed at facilitating reconciliation in Afghanistan.” In view of the US narrowing down of troops from Afghanistan, Moscow might be trying to reinforce its influence in the country.
The US has been wary of the ‘Russia Afghan peace diplomacy’. It has accused Moscow of arming the Taliban, and undermining the US presence in Afghanistan. The US Central Command Chief, General Joseph Votel, said, “I think it is fair to assume they may be providing some sort of support to the Taliban, in terms of weapons or other things that may be there.” Russia has defended its position with regard to the Taliban, calling the US accusations “fabrications designed to justify the failure of the US military in the Afghan campaign.” The divergence of interest between the US and Russia on Afghanistan could be the start of another geopolitical struggle between the Cold War rivals, with Afghanistan once again as the theatre of competing interest.
[A version of the article appeared in The Express Tribune, April 27, 2017]
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessary reflective of IPRI policy.