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Russian Initiative: Peace Process in Afghanistan
Gaurav Kumar
2018-11-16
Region : Asia, South Asia, Afghanistan,
Issue : Security, Terrorism, Politics,
On 9 November 2018, Russian hosted a peace conference on Afghanistan, which was attended by representatives from the Taliban, High Peace Council members and delegates from 11 countries. The initiative has gained a lot of attention internationally due to its ability to bring the Taliban members on the same table with the High Peace council members, which is in charge of the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, but is considered independent of Afghan Government. This is also the first time Russia has organised a meeting with the Taliban delegates on the peace process. The Afghan government officials abstained from the meeting however, led their support to the initiative.
After the meeting, the Taliban delegates reiterated their main demand for the withdrawal of foreign forces, which they suggested will only discuss in with the Americans.Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Taliban spokesperson cleared the air on the possibility of direct talks with the Afghan government. He said, “This conference was not about direct talks,the Taliban "does not recognise the current government as legal and therefore we won't hold talks with them ." Peace Council members however showed willingness to engage with the Taliban at the official level. Eshan Taheri, representative of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, said that we confirmed to them [Taliban representatives] that we are ready to go on negotiations without conditions. We asked them to define a date and place for the direct talks .
India too sent two former diplomats at ‘non-official’ capacity to attend the meeting.A later, Indian Deputy National Security Adviser Pankaj Saran said that India and Russia support the Afghan government's efforts towards the realisation of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. 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 , even though the Afghan government officials were not present in the conference.
The criticality of the Event
The most crucial aspect of the event, apart from the presence of the Taliban, HPC delegation and Indian delegates, is the alternative platform it has provided to the regional stakeholders to sit together and discuss the Afghan conflict. Since the first initiative taken after the London Conference in 2010, the peace process for Afghanistan has always been West led initiative, under the US umbrella. Both China and Russia in the past had tried to bring together many stakeholders at informal level, but were hardly able to give it a formal shape. The Moscow conference might have ended without any major breakthrough, but it certainly gave an alternative platform. It can be concluded that the process for peace in Afghanistan has gained new dimension, if not a new direction or a new phase. For Russia, it has been a major breakthrough in its strategic outreach towards the region. It has been able to formalize its contact with one of the most formidable stakeholders in Afghanistan. It has always considered Afghanistan to be an extended neighbourhood of central Asia, which was earlier part of the unified Soviet Union. Russian renewed engagement with the region has been aptly summed up by ArkadyDubnov in his article for Al Jazeera, where he mentions-Moscow is seeking to become an important player in conflict resolution in Afghanistan, where the interests of various regional and world powers, including the US, come together. In this way, it gets to open yet another front through which it seeks to re-engage with the US . However apart from its strategic interest in Afghanistan, Russia has some genuine security interest. The issues like Islamic radicalisation, Narco-terrorism are some of the threats it wants to avoid in its backyard. It could not build major deterrent without engaging the Taliban at one or the other level.
Inherent Dangers of the Process
At the same time, the process is fraught with its own inherent dangers: the first and foremost is the reliability factor of the Taliban. It would be tough for the regional players including India to accommodate its vision for the region with the Taliban’s strict adherence to its philosophy. The recent records of the insurgent groups suggest that it had hardly changed its stand over some of the contentious issues on women’s right, education and Sharia. Its adherence to its philosophy will certainly promote radicalism and breed insurgency. Secondly, there is a limit to the possibility of pushing the US to the wall in the geostrategic games played out in Afghanistan. The enormity of the US interest and its stake in Afghanistan and the South Asia cannot be swept under the carpet, and therefore must be taken into consideration. The by inviting the US members to the conference, the Russia signalled that it wants to take the US along with the other countries. Moreover, the Taliban also knows the importance of the US, both as a major stakeholder and a military opponent in Afghanistan. The importance could be assessed by its demand to talk to the US about the withdrawal of the international forces, which will be the key bone of contention between the US and the Taliban. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the Russia to engage with the US government, and not just with the Taliban and the other regional stakeholders, if it wants to secure its strategic and security interests.

End notes
1.) Al Jazeera. "Taliban: Russia Meeting 'not about Direct Talks' with Kabul." GCC News | Al Jazeera. November 09, 2018. Accessed November 15, 2018.https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/afghanistan-peace-talks-moscow-progress-181109174823287.html
2.) Anadolu Agency." Egypt Halts Operations at Gaza Border Crossing:Official. Accessed November 16, 2018.https://www.aa.com.tr/en/politics/conference-on-afghanistan-ends-in-moscow/1306722
3) "India, Russia Support Afghan-led, Afghan-owned Peace Process: Deputy NSA." The Economic Times. November 13, 2018. Accessed November 16, 2018.https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/india-russia-support-afghan-led-afghan-owned-peace-process-deputy-nsa/articleshow/66621195.cms.
4.) Dubnov, Arkady. "What Game Is Russia Playing in Afghanistan?" GCC News | Al Jazeera. November 14, 2018. Accessed November 16, 2018.https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/game-russia-playing-afghanistan-181113160715311.html

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