Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Moscow Peace Conference: A New Twist in Afghan Peace Process

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Moscow Peace Conference:  A New Twist in Afghan Peace Process

After the initial botched attempt by Russia and Pakistan to organize peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow few months back where participation of Taliban was planned, stake holders agreed to allow for Moscow Peace conference on Afghanistan to take place on November 10, 2018, one of the first where representatives of Afghan Taliban have directly participated, sitting next to, and face to face around a large round-table along other participants. Moscow peace conference was opposed by Government of Afghanistan when it was first planned to take place. Along with many other attendees, representatives of Afghanistan High Peace Council and unofficial participation of the representative of the Government of India has somehow balanced the event. Afghan Taliban have sent a delegation of five members who presented long statement outlining their ‘position on peace’, asking for ‘international guarantor’ for ongoing peace process, casting doubts and complaining about ‘dishonest’ initiatives on the part of US and Afghanistan Governments for peace in the country, narcotics and myriad of issues which Taliban put the blame for their existence on US Government and ‘Kabul Administration’. Though there have been many meetings held between representatives of Taliban and the US Government, Afghanistan Government and other countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, the hallmark of this conference is that Taliban have openly attended it with their sizeable delegation and presented their demands and position openly to the participants and the press.
It is clearly noticeable that Moscow Peace Conference was initiated after relations between Pakistan and the United States of America had hit its lowest ebb, and Pakistan tried to warm up relations with her cold-war rival, Russia to counter-balance any untoward actions by US Government. In the advent of US president Donald Trump taking office, United States has drastically changed its policy toward her cold war ally, Pakistan, blaming her for ‘lies and deceits’ in case of Afghanistan and has openly blamed Pakistan for supporting terrorism and hostile armed groups – including Taliban - who campaign to weaken Afghanistan central government and hinders attempts to stabilize the country. Pakistan was even put in the grey list of a watch dog, which monitors countries supporting terrorism. The pressure continues by US Government and fate of Pakistan lies in the balance as she should either terminate support to hostile groups campaigning against Afghanistan Government or face punishing measures. In the backdrop of this scenario, and in order to siphon off ongoing pressure by US Government and international community, Pakistani establishment cleverly planned for alternate policy to continue to provide support to Taliban through new allies and regional powers including Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Qatar so that her efforts put in place in bringing in Taliban back in military, political and social scenes in Afghanistan is not gone in vain. Pakistani establishment has successfully coaxed Russia and other countries with interest at stake in Afghanistan, for example Uzbekistan, to trust Taliban and helped them establish line of communication with the group. Russia and Uzbekistan quickly bought the idea keeping in view ground realities in the country that Taliban was organized force to reckon with. Henceforth, many meetings held between Russians and Taliban were reported in the press, which were confirmed by Russian embassy in Kabul. Uzbekistan also stepped in and hosted a meeting with Taliban in that country. Chinese have been engaged with Taliban, but they had always taken Afghanistan Government officials in confidence before their contacts with the group. Pakistan can now smartly claim it isn’t them only to have contacts with Taliban, there are other countries engaged with the group, hence successfully brought in new actors in the game. Pakistan believes they have hit two targets with one bullet, meaning 1) support to Taliban will continue through other countries including Russia in the event Pakistan was blacklisted or economically crippled under possible, heavy sanctions, and 2) Taliban are given international and regional recognition when Russia came in to the scene and invited Taliban delegations to Nov.10, 2018 peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow. Other twists in ongoing Afghan peace process include assertive Russian position. With the help from Pakistan, Russia has successfully established working relationship with Afghan Taliban. This phenomena could have devastating implications on situation in Afghanistan in the event when Russia decide to use Afghanistan as leverage against USA and other European countries to settle issues in Syria, Europe, Ukraine or any other matter of importance to Russia. USA and NATO continue to invest heavily in Afghanistan, and they are powerful block. Their interest is in a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. These points – though at present only at inception phases – should be taken heed of and countries surrounding Afghanistan, regional powers and world powers should manage not to use Afghanistan as tool for their vested interests.
Though the government of Afghanistan has distanced itself from Nov.10 Moscow Peace Conference, attendance by members of High Peace Council is encouraging. India is a major regional power and important development partner of Afghanistan stabilization and development, and continues to assist Afghanistan with hundreds of millions of USD every year. Though unofficial, a two member delegation from India participated in the conference. This can be a start and pave the way to full engagement and participation of countries which have assisted Afghanistan to stabilize during last eighteen years, in future conferences and settings, held to bring peace and stability in the country.  For any and all efforts initiated to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, they should be honest, void of any hidden agenda and vested interests. It is unfortunate to see so much at play around Moscow Peace Conference, putting the whole process questionable.
At this point in time, the only logical order to pursue peace in Afghanistan is to continue pressure on Pakistan – both economic and military – and to encourage Taliban to terminate relations with countries who have hostile designs for Afghanistan. In addition, Afghanistan’s friends and development partners should assist Government of Afghanistan in intelligence, military, training, economy and empowerment in order to ward off ongoing relentless efforts by intelligence services of unfriendly countries to destabilize the country. Moscow Peace Conference and the likes of it should continue to follow up on pledges, promises and actions so that road to peace is narrowed. It is highly recommended that such conferences be inclusive, meaning all parties who have stakes and interests in Afghanistan should be part of all and any peace conferences – irrespective of which party initiated them. For Afghanistan to succeed in her efforts to stabilize and successfully chart development plan for her future, international community, development partners and regional powers – including neighboring countries – should work on an agenda and strategy that is not dictated by their home countries’ policies. A separate Management Unit should be formed, which should be funded, guaranteed, directly observed and supported by world powers, and keeping Afghanistan Government and realities on the ground at its center, an overall inclusive strategy to bring peace, political and economic stability and national unity to the country should be formulated. Afghanistan is fighting for its existence, the people of Afghanistan deserve peace, stability and development, and it is the responsibility of world comity to support this nation at this critical juncture – NOT TO use it as tools to suit their vested interests.

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammed.g.sahibbzada@gmail.com

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