Moscow Format, Regional Consensus and the Way Forward
The Afghan Peace Process is moving ahead with a number of initiatives and processes started by different countries having their own perspectives on peacemaking. Apart from many sessions held between Taliban and the United States to negotiate for peace in Afghanistan – in Abu Dhabi and Doha – regional states are striving to restore peace in Afghanistan through dialogue. The latest meeting between Taliban and prominent Afghan politicians, including ex-president Hamid Karzai, two women lawmakers and others was held on February 05 in Moscow, Russia – Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani government did not participate, though. The 42-member roundtable, which was presided over by former Afghan president, Mr Hamid Karzai, was attended by a 10-member high level delegation of Taliban headed by Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanakzai.
Prior to this meeting, another conference entitled “Moscow Format” was held on November 09, 2018, in the Russian capital, and was attended by delegations from 12 countries including Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan while the United States and India participated as observers. Taliban was the only non-state-actor in the meeting with a five-member delegation led by Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanakzai; the head of Taliban Political Office in Qatar. Afghanistan sent a delegation of High Peace Council including Haji Deen Muhammad; the Deputy Head of High Peace Council. India was represented by its two ex-diplomats, and United States by members of its embassy in Moscow.
The Moscow Format was the first in the fact that it was attended by Taliban on official level and other nations also shared table with each other regardless of difference of opinions and perspectives about bringing peace in Afghanistan. Before Moscow Format, Taliban attended the Murree Peace Talks in July 2017 in Pakistan on official level but the participants of that meeting were limited only to China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. Interestingly, the Moscow Format was attended by a member of Taliban who is under sanctions by the United Nations. Moreover, Russia has designated Taliban as global terrorist organization but the vagaries of time as well as the changing global political scenario has forced Russia to take lead in mainstreaming Taliban and play a major role in Afghanistan’s politics.
The apparent motive behind Russia’s vigorous involvement in Afghan affairs is the establishment and spread of Daesh (ISIS) in Afghanistan. Daesh is the enemy number one of Russia and is an imminent threat to the security of Central Asian States and Russia itself. Daesh has gained ground in Afghanistan and is exploring new avenues for itself. Russia will accept enemy number two, i.e. Taliban, instead of Daesh in Afghanistan.
Read More: DEEMED TWIST IN AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS
On the other hand, the United States as a global power and the most important stakeholder in Afghan peace process has engaged Taliban and the regional states who get engaged only according to their own interests and objectives. Although the United States will never tolerate Russia’s intense engagement in Afghan affairs, yet the former cannot deny the role of the latter in regional and global politics. The United States had a very low official representation in the meeting; just to be on board in every process leading towards Afghanistan’s political stability.
India has, for the first time, got an opportunity to listen to Taliban officially and share the meeting table with them. India, too, has its own perspective about Afghan Taliban but her alliance with the United States for Afghanistan’s development, and the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan have compelled her to participate in every forum where Afghanistan’s security, development and politics are under discussion. India sent a two-member delegation with a non-official status.
The most important thing in this process is the regional consensus which is lacking here. China, Pakistan and Russia have somewhat consensus to mainstream Taliban so as to put an end to the Afghan conflict. It will also be an opportunity to stop ISIS from spreading its tentacles to the borders of China, Pakistan and Central Asian Republics. Moreover, the possible peace in Afghanistan will pave the way for the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) in order to achieve its economic goals. Pakistan is the most affected state from Afghanistan’s instability and the lingering crisis. On the other hand, India and the United States seem in unison as they have a shared destiny in Afghanistan. Iran wants Taliban to be mainstreamed but is not as vocal as other regional and global actors. The Central Asian States are on the same page with Russia regarding the Taliban – Uzbekistan also held a conference on Afghan peace process in March last year which shows their interest and involvement in this process. The regional consensus at this point of time has not been fully achieved but the activities and involvement of these states are meant to find a meaningful way to end the instability and anarchy in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, United States Special Representative for Afghan Peace Process, Zalmay Khalilzad, has also held three-day marathon talks with the Taliban’s Political Office representatives. While talking to journalists in Kabul, he was optimistic regarding his endeavours, and wanted to sign a deal with the Taliban before the presidential elections in Afghanistan, scheduled on April 20, 2019. He is in continuous struggle to reach out to each and every group, individual or state that may have some influence on Taliban.
The negotiations with US envoy, Khalilzad, Afghan lawmakers and the ‘Moscow Summit’, in which the Taliban shared the platform with members of Afghan HPC, provided the Taliban with greater international recognition, strengthened their position and has boosted their confidence in the battlefield. Taliban has continued its activities in the battlefield to build up more pressure on the forces involved in the peace process.
The Moscow Summit was hosted by Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council despite serious reservations of Kabul government, which sent members of HPC rather than diplomats to oversee the forum. The Moscow Summit was scheduled for September 4 but delayed after Afghan President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani called Russia to cancel it. Despite the reservations of the government in Kabul, the Afghans, in general, are curious for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. Now, the peace talks may lead to a meaningful conclusion but the status quo agents in Afghanistan’s political and administrative circles will employ delaying tactics as the positive results of peace talks will challenge the present status quo and incentives provided to these circles in post– 2004 political settlement in Afghanistan.
Moreover, Americans must also keep one thing in mind: before reaching any conclusion with the Taliban, the other Jihadi leaders especially Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Rasoul Sayyaf should also be taken on board for developing greater consensus and ensuring long-term stability in the war-ravaged Afghanistan. These leaders will not be against a negotiated settlement but ignoring them may create a sense of mistrust and deprivation in them, leading maybe to more complications while restoring peace in Afghanistan.
The way forward in this scenario is to continue the negotiations and engage the Taliban along with other Afghan groups on every forum. Each side must sacrifice some of its conditions for the sake of achieving the desired goals. The regional states should have one voice and be concentrated on bringing stability in Afghanistan at all costs. An “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process” would be a much better option as Afghans were supposed to solve their problem on their own, but that process lagged behind due to many internal and external issues. In short, whether it is Moscow Summit or Khalilzad’s mission, Murree Peace Talks or unofficial meetings, the destination should be reached with consensus, focused on long – term stability and practicable in implementation.
Munich Security Conference
Influential global figures in international security policy gathered at Munich last week discussing a whole range of issues ranging from climate change to security situation in different parts of the world including Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi represented Pakistan at the conference and during a panel discussion titled ‘Update on Afghanistan’ as well as his interactions with world leaders including with US lawmakers, he eloquently reaffirmed Pakistan’s stance on Afghan peace and reconciliation process.
This time around the security moot was held in the backdrop of some positive progress on Afghan peace process. Pakistan in fact played pivotal role in breaking political stalemate in Afghanistan and the FM rightly referred to the support and facilitation extended by Pakistan for direct talks between the US and Taliban in Abu Dhabi and Doha. Pakistan has always supported an Afghan owned and Afghan led peace process and at long last the world community and the US have also endorsed Pakistan’s stance that there is no military but only negotiated settlement of the decades old conflict. As the world was in appreciation of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, it is regrettable that some enemies of peace, who failed to isolate Pakistan at international level, have again become active and hatched another conspiracy to malign the country.
Pulwama attack and blaming Pakistan for the same was an outrageous and shameful attempt on part of Modi-led government to turn the world opinion against the country. Such unpalatable tactics of Modi Junta have failed in the past and are bound to fail again. Modi might gain some domestic sympathies through such rhetoric against Pakistan in the upcoming elections but the way India orchestrated Mumbai and Samjhota Express episodes is no longer a secret and everybody knows the real story. A German author in his book very clearly exposed the face of India in Mumbai attacks. As India is sticking with its intransigence and state terrorism in occupied Kashmir, Pakistan should continue to tread the path it is pursuing for peace in neighbouring Afghanistan and to highlight the plight of Kashmiri people at world forums including through conducting successful conferences such as the one held recently at the British Parliament on Kashmir solidarity day. World community, especially influential Capitals, need to rise above any political and economic expediency and call a spade a spade for lasting peace in South Asia region. As International Court of Justice is commencing Kulbushan Yadav case hearing from today, Pakistan should presents the facts and expose the real face of India before the world.