Written By: Hasan Khan
Instead of taking a solo approach, Russia initiated the process of ‘Moscow consultations’ taking all the regional countries along to come up with regional strategy for Afghanistan.
The two-day Moscow Conference on Afghanistan held on April 14 and 15, in the Russian capital, asserted to coordinate regional efforts and facilitate the process of ‘national reconciliation’ to stabilize Afghanistan.
A statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry stating the representatives of all participating parties including Russia, China, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan called on the parties to shun violence and seek negotiated settlement for the conflict.
“A call has been sent to the Taliban movement to abandon its line for a military solution of the Afghan conflict in favor of direct talks with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the issue of national reconciliation,” the statement said.
Reports also suggested that Russia and China – the two regional powers – separately committed to convince Taliban militia to ‘focus less on fighting against Kabul’ and ‘more on the more imminent threat’, the growing influence of international terror syndicate, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) – a regional offshoot of ‘Islamic State’. Russia has also offered to host the intra-Afghan talks for peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
To be more realistic, it is this growing threat of Daesh, also called ISIS, in the eastern parts of Afghanistan with potentials of destabilizing the entire region that has forced Russia to get engaged in the Afghan conflict 37 years after Soviet invasion in December 1979. However, instead of taking a solo approach, Russia initiated the process of ‘Moscow consultations’ taking all the regional countries along to come up with regional strategy for Afghanistan.
Besides Russia, the growing influence of ISKP is also a matter of concern for China, Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan is sharing 2611 km border with Afghanistan and IS militants operating in the border regions were also behind various deadly terrorists’ attacks in Pakistan. Iran also fears Daesh due to its anti-Shia agenda.
Moscow process of consultation has grown over the time from a trilateral consultation initially involving Russia, China, and Pakistan in to dialogue involving all the neighboring states of Afghanistan and the regional powers.
Russia also invited the U.S. to participate in this third round of regional consultations for initiating political negotiations on Afghan issue, however, it refused [to participate] and instead branded the process as “unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region.”
While initiating the process, its founding members China, Russia and Pakistan were in agreement over the fact that the continued fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban would ultimately strengthen the ISKP and increase its influence in the entire region.
Furthermore, there was an increasing concern among regional stakeholders that after facing defeat in Syria and rest of the Middle East, IS militants are fleeing and searching new abodes – and a destabilized Afghanistan was a prime attraction.
It is already evident that Russia has played a crucial role in defeating ISIS in Syria through counter-terrorism operations and infiltrating ethnic Chechens in the militant ranks, in the face of resistance from the U.S. and allies. Russia also successfully weakened the U.S.-installed regime in Libya and strengthened the opposition there.
Due to these U.S.-Russian proxies in the Middle Eastern countries, experts are of the opinion that the U.S. itself is involved in now shifting Daesh militants to Afghanistan in order to destabilize Russia by infiltrating IS militants into Central Asian States and also keep sorts of checks on growing economic and political influence of China.
The U.S. and Russia have a major difference of opinion in resolution of Afghan conflict. The U.S. want to continue its military engagements – though led by the Afghan national security forces – till the total annihilation of armed militia of Taliban. However, Russia, Pakistan and China think otherwise. Their approach towards resolution of Afghan conflict is manifested in this statement where the conference called on “ensuring a national reconciliation using political methods in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions” to resolve this decades old conflict.
ISKP is currently carrying its activities in limited eastern areas of Afghanistan close to Pakistan border. However, once strengthened, it will definitely extend its activities from its current abodes in east to north of Afghanistan. And from there it can easily infiltrate into the bordering Central Asian Republics – known to be the soft belly of Moscow – thus undermining Moscow’s national security interests.
The aggressive posturing adopted by the U.S. and Russia over the perceived threat of IS militants in the region are clear signals that both the super powers are once again flexing muscles for new proxies on the traditional Afghan turf.
Despite the Russian clarification that its involvement in Afghan affairs is exclusively for its own national security interests and for checking growing influence of IS, Washington is deeply annoyed over the development alleging that by establishing links with Taliban insurgents, Russia is jeopardizing her years-long campaign in Afghanistan.
Commenting on the growing Moscow-Taliban links, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis told media recently, “I am not willing to say at this point if that has manifested into weapon and that sort of thing, but certainly what they (Russians) are up to there in light of their other activities gives us concern.”
On supplying arms and weapons to Taliban, CENTCOM Commander Gen Joseph L. Votel minced no words when speaking to members of Senate Armed Services Committee, he said, “(Russia) may be providing some kind of support to them (Taliban) in terms of weapons or other things… I believe what Russia is attempting to do is, it is trying to be an influential party.”
However, looking into the format of Moscow process, it appears all these countries are members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). So by its composition, it is the SCO making efforts to formulate a strategy for preventing Afghanistan falling to IS terrorists, which may further infiltrate into SCO members. Stabilizing Afghanistan, the SCO members believe, is necessary to make sure that terrorism does not spread further into the region.
In Moscow process this common concern over growing terrorist activities in Afghanistan was echoed. It stated, “The parties [concerned] 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 U.S. and Russia have a major difference of opinion in the resolution of Afghan conflict. The U.S. wants to continue its military engagements – though led by the Afghan national security forces – till the total annihilation of armed militia of Taliban. However, Russia, Pakistan and China think otherwise. Their approach towards resolution of Afghan conflict is manifested in this statement where the conference called on “ensuring a national reconciliation using political methods in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions” to resolve this decades old conflict.
However, after all the U.S. is too crucial to the conflict to be ignored. Its refusal to participate in Moscow consultation will definitely thwart the prospects for achieving a stable Afghanistan. Besides, keeping the Afghan current dispensation intact by financing all its expenses including those of national security forces and police, the U.S. also has 8400 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. And by all definitions, Washington is a major stakeholder to the Afghan conflict, and not being onboard, it will be very much difficult for surrogate – the Kabul regime – to agree to a process not supported by Washington.
Interestingly, Washington has already diverted attention of the world from the Moscow conference by dropping powerful bombs on alleged hideouts of IS in Afghanistan. It will become clear in days to come whether the attacks on IS hideouts is a policy shift to checkmate Russian efforts for elimination of IS threats or just distracting tactics. However, peace in Afghanistan is very crucial for peace in Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan supports all efforts that in some way contribute towards resolution of Afghan conflict by involving all stakeholders.
The writer is a senior journalist, analyst and anchor person.