Moscow peace process over Afghanistan
The crucial round of peace talks over Afghanistan concluded at Moscow on March 19, 2021 was participated by representatives of major powers (US, Russia and China) besides Afghan Government, Taliban, Pakistan and Iran.
The peace talks were followed by an international peace conference on Afghanistan, aiming to reinvigorate negotiations that have been taking place between the Afghan government and the Taliban at Doha.
There was a noticeable optimism noted among all stakeholders for bringing peace and stability in war-torn Afghanistan.
It is for the first time that, representatives of three major powers were together on a single negotiating table, debating and pushing for peace in Afghanistan alongside regional states.
It was for the first time US sent a senior representative to attend negotiations over Afghanistan in Moscow under a format initiated by Russia in 2017.
This format is called an “expanded troika,” include both regional states as well as major power.
The Russian special representative on Afghanistan Mr ZamirKabulov and American special representative ZalmayKhalilzad joined a news briefing following the Afghan peace conference.
A sense of readiness for peace was expressed by Afghan warring factions; Afghan Government and Taliban.
Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation said, “We expressed our readiness to accelerate the [peace] process.
They (the Taliban) did as well.” Mullah Abdul GhaniBaradar was heading the Taliban delegation.
The crux of the Afghan peace conference was; both parties (Government and Taliban) should reduce the violence and pave the way for peace through intra-Afghan talks.
Taliban were especially stressed to “forego their spring offensive, the yearly renewal in attacks after a winter lull, in order to facilitate peace negotiations.”
In last few months there has been a gradual increase in the violence in Afghanistan with lot of human losses.
Besides, the Doha peace process (Intra-Afghan Reconciliation) between Afghan Government and Taliban was also stalled to some extent.
Both parties were accusing each other for non-cooperation and initiation of violence which further created an element of distrust.
In order to restore the trust, US, China, Russia and Pakistan emphasized warring parties to reach an immediate ceasefire which may pave the way for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.
This deadline was fixed in the agreement concluded between United States and Taliban on February 29, 2020.
President Joe Biden hinted at reconsidering this agreement, since it was concluded during Trump Administration which infuriated the Taliban who warned for the restart of civil war and attacks on US and NATO bases.
The joint statement issued after Moscow peace process stressed both sides to conclude their intra-Afghan reconciliation process for supporting and formation of “an independent, sovereign, unified, peaceful, democratic, and self-sufficient Afghanistan.”
Such a process will further ensure elimination of terrorism from Afghan soil and protection of the rights of everyone including women and minorities.
Earlier, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent a confidential letter warning President Ashraf Ghani that, Afghanistan may have to face a Taliban onslaught if he (President Ghani) is unable to accelerate the peace process through constructive developmental mechanism.
Mr Blinken made it clear that US have many options including delaying the pull out of its forces from Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, US proposals include; establishment of a “transitional Peace Government of Afghanistan” that would eventually transfer power to a permanent government “following the adoption of a new constitution and national elections.”
President Ghani seems to be reluctant towards implementation of this proposal, suspecting his exclusion from any future set-up.
President Ghani desires continuation of his second term or else free and inclusive elections under the auspices of the international community. Abdullah Abdullah, however, seems to be flexible with all options.
United States has its strategic interests in Afghanistan, thus may like to continue with its limited military deployment with a NATO force under the cover of logistic support and training teams for Afghan forces.
However, currently, the Biden Administration seems quite puzzle over the future course of action.
The regional countries especially Pakistan has lot of stakes in Afghanistan.
A peace and stability in Afghanistan will bring peace and economic prosperity in Pakistan besides development of a cooperative mechanism between Islamabad and Kabul.
Russia and China are joining hands for the pull-out of extra regional forces (NATO and US).
Both are united against US, otherwise they have their own national interests in the regional and global politics.
India is not interested for a peace and stability in Afghanistan, since it find relevant only during crises and civil war like situation.
A regional approach with guaranteed establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan is best way forward.
The Moscow peace process has created a new ray of hope for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
President Ghani and Taliban must show flexibility and magnanimity to benefit from the opportunity, provided through optimistic involvement of all major powers and regional stakeholders.
Any rigidity on the part of incumbent Government or Taliban may derail the peace process and push Afghanistan towards another anarchy and chaos.
Seeing the turbulent history of Afghanistan and interests of major powers, another civil war will push the country towards devastation and confrontation for a foreseeable future.
— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.