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Talks on Afghanistan

As expected, the third round of talks under the Russian-sponsored initiative to find an amicable solution to the conflict in Afghanistan failed to make any headway. However, this time the Central Asian States also attended the moot along with China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Afghanistan.

The US, which was invited by Russia to be a part of the dialogue, declined the offer, saying that the motives of the talks were not clear. Afghanistan has also been expressing its weariness about Russia’s attempts to woo the Taliban. The Taliban, who had earlier welcomed the Russian move, reportedly threw a spanner in the works by withdrawing their support to the dialogue.

The spokesman of the Taliban told Voice of America that: “We cannot call these negotiations…a dialogue for the restoration of peace in Afghanistan. This meeting stems from [the] political agendas of the countries who are organising it. This has…nothing to do with us, nor do we support it”.

With the Taliban having withdrawn their support, Afghanistan looking askance at the initiative and the US abstaining to attend, the Russian initiative, for all practical purposes, seems to have come to a naught. Its significance lies only in the fact that they gathered, discussed and dispersed.

At the end of the talks, the Russian ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement. It stated: “The parties had a frank and thorough exchange of views on the current political and military situation in Afghanistan as well as on its prospects and expressed common concern over growing terrorist activities in the country, leading to rising tensions and increasing violence which adds to the predicament of the Afghan people.

“The meeting’s participants stressed that there was no military solution to the Afghan crisis while the only way to resolve it was by ensuring a national reconciliation using political methods in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions. The parties reiterated their support for the efforts being made by the Kabul government and the country’s social and political circles which are aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan”.

The foregoing statement by the Russian foreign ministry is an attempt to conceal the embarrassment that Russia had to face as a result of the withdrawal of support to the talks by the Taliban and the reservations of Afghanistan and the US about the motives behind the effort. Pakistan has, all along, rightly maintained that the participation of the US was absolutely imperative in any initiative related to promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, as it was the biggest stakeholder in the issue.

The view held by Pakistan has great merit. The US – since its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 – has invested astronomical amounts of dollars and has lost hundreds of their soldiers. It has failed to end the insurgency by the Taliban who remain a potent threat to the Afghan government installed and propped up by the US. It is now in the process of getting out of Afghanistan and wants to see an end to the conflict in that country before leaving. However, it will not abandon the Afghan government when the situation is not under its control. Instead, it wants to make sure that Afghanistan does not relapse into factional fighting during the Taliban regime. The US must, therefore, be part of any effort to end conflict in Afghanistan.

But the fact remains that the regional countries– like China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran – also have a huge stake in peace in Afghanistan. The best way to move forward will be if all the stakeholders to get together and use their collective wisdom to find a way out of the conundrum. This is, however, easier said than done. The situation is complicated and has made even worse by the US-Russia tiff over the US bombing of an airbase in Syria.

The possibility of these two powers coming together in the foreseeable future to resolve the Afghan conflict appears to be remote. Another factor which has reduced the prospects of talks on Afghanistan is the Taliban’s position that they will not participate in any dialogue before the foreign troops leave the country.

How can Russian even promote intra-Afghan dialogue without Afghanistan and the US agreeing to the proposition? In fact, under the prevailing situation, the solution to the Afghanistan conundrum lies in the hands of the US administration and the Taliban. How to bring these two stakeholders to an agreement on resolving the Afghan conflict remains a million dollars question.

The recent developments suggest that the US will probably get tough under the Trump administration and pursue an aggressive policy on Afghanistan. The bombing of an airbase in Syria, the dropping of the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan and a tough stance against North Korea point towards to the things that have yet to come.

The unannounced dash to Pakistan by the US National Security Advisor Lt Gen HR McMaster in the backdrop of the foregoing developments is also of great significance. He has met the prime minister, the adviser to the PM on foreign affairs and the COAS. According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister House, the US security adviser assured the prime minister that the new administration was committed to strengthening bilateral relations and working with Pakistan to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan and in South Asian.

A day earlier, while speaking to Tolo News in Afghanistan, he said: “The best way for the Pakistani leaders to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy and not through the use of proxies that engage in violence”.

The prime minister reportedly briefed the general about the efforts that Pakistan has made in combating terrorism and the steps taken to improve the security situation and maintain a peaceful neighbourhood. He also spoke about the country’s resolve to work with the international community to find an amicable solution to the Afghan problem.

In addition, the prime minister expressed Pakistan’s strong desire to work with the US to promote peace and security in the region and highlighted the desirability of the US playing a role in resolving the Kashmir issue. The statement did not say whether there was any change in his alleged view about Pakistan using proxies or not.

The US recently had indicated the possibility of it playing a role in defusing tensions between Pakistan and India before anything happened. For that to happen, Pakistan will have to focus more on winning the confidence of the US regarding its indiscriminate action against all terrorists rather than pursuing its objectives through proxies, as alleged by the US.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:ashpak10@gmail.com

Malik Muhammad Ashraf, "Talks on Afghanistan," The News. 2017-04-20.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Foreign policy , Political circles , Security Council , Violence , Taliban , Diplomacy , Terrorism , Gen HR McMaster , Afghanistan , North Korea , COAS