On October 7, 2001, the United States launched an armed invasion of Afghanistan that was allegedly aimed at destroying Al-Qaeda. Fifteen years after this act of aggression, presented as a response to the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, Afghanistan remains the toughest security challenge in Central Asia – a strategic region that lies at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia. Due to this fact, Afghanistan has become a stage for one of the most intense and bloody armed conflicts on Earth, a conflict that remains the longest armed struggle in US history. On top of the massive number of civilian casualties suffered by the Afghan population, NATO forces have lost more than 3,500 thousand men on the field of battle. At the end of the day, Washington has trillions of dollars to achieve nothing.
Despite repeated attempts taken by the international community over recent years to seek political reconciliation, no settlement has been achieved. Therefore, any attempt taken by international players and the countries bordering Afghanistan at bringing the parties to the negotiating table receives a lot of interest and attention.
For instance, last December, Iran took the unprecedented step of inviting Taliban leaders to a conference in Tehran, although it had been consistently denying even the possibility of contacting the Taliban movement on any level. As it’s been noted by an Iranian scholar, cleric and a member of the Assembly of Experts in Iran, Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, only those representative of the Taliban movement who adhered to “moderate” views received the invitation. According to the Ayatollah, there’s a number of political figures deep within the Taliban structure that still believe in the unity of all Muslims.
Almost simultaneously, Moscow hosted a round of the tripartite consultation on the Central Asian issues with the participation of special representatives of Russia, China and Pakistan. The previous two were held in Beijing and Islamabad. Yet, Afghan officials were not invited.
However, the fact that such a meeting was held without the participation of the representatives of the Afghan government angered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Parliament of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The Afghan side pointed out that such consultations may cause problems despite the good intentions of those that took part in it. A number of Afghan members of parliament would go as far as to describe such meetings as an “attack on Afghan sovereignty”, while insisting that the Afghan government should condemn the tripartite consultations. However, Kabul chose not to release any official statements.
Representatives of Moscow, Tehran and Pakistan noted that there’s a visible deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during the talks they held, while expressing grave concern over the increasing scope of activities of extremist groups, including ISIS. The parties agreed to carry on their efforts to further promote the advancement of national reconciliation in Afghanistan that is to be led by Afghans themselves, while seeking options to reintegrate those who form armed opposition groups, back in the civilian life.
It is been reported that during the meeting the parties agreed to file a request to the UN Security Council to get a number of Taliban leaders off the “black list” to provide them with a chance of participating in peace talks. A similar request to the international community has been put forward by the Taliban itself, since the movement is convinced that some of its representatives need the freedom of movement for its members to have a say at the negotiation table. And even though the Obama administration was not prepared to take such a step, the decision to support this notion taken by China and Russia has been described by a number of international observers as a step toward the legalization of Taliban at an international level.
As it’s been reported by the Afghan media, the representative of the Taliban movement in Qatar, Suhail Shahin, welcomed the outcomes of the Moscow meeting. According to a number of regional observers, one of the reasons why the Taliban seeks closer ties with Russia is the emergence of a terrorist threat that is new to Afghanistan – ISIS. The so-called Islamic State was created and nurtured by the Obama administration and now the White House sends its militants to Central Asia in a bid to break the Taliban resistance. Therefore, local elites decided they would be better off establishing ties with Russia, which they had previously fought, in order not to be swarmed by fanatical mercenaries. Now Reuters notes that the Pentagon is extremely concerned by the rapidly developing ties between Russia and the Taliban.
As for the Government of National Unity of Afghanistan, it is necessary to recall that it was repeatedly accused of providing support to the Islamic State. Yet, its officials chose to do nothing to dispel those allegations. This resulted in the countries of the region turning their eyes toward the Taliban instead as a lesser evil in this situation.
Therefore, it’s safe to state that the trilateral meeting in Moscow displayed the determination of regional powers to establish peace in Afghanistan through consultations and negotiations.
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”