Against the backdrop of the obvious failure of US policy for a peaceful settlement of the situation in Afghanistan, other countries across the international community have decided to take the lead in helping secure peace in this long-suffering country.
The hopeless stalemate of almost twenty years of Washington’s policy in Afghanistan, and the lack of any prospects for the United States to help reach a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, are forcing the international community to search for additional ways to resolve this issue. Yet more proof of Washington’s inability to negotiate was a telephone conversation made on January 28 between the US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, who said that Washington had decided to start “revising the agreement” signed in February 2020 with the Taliban (an organization banned in Russia).
At the same time, it should be noted that the Biden administration, from the very first days it came into existence, started talking about plans to revise the terms of the agreement made with the Taliban. On February 4, the “Afghanistan Study Group”, set up at the initiative of the US Congress, suggested that the US administration urgently resume negotiations on postponing the withdrawal of American troops. The White House has many reasons to delay the withdrawal from Afghanistan. First of all, it is impossible for Joe Biden to leave this country for personal reasons: he is tormented by the specter of a repetition of how the United States fled from Vietnam in shame. The objectives set by his predecessors that invaded Afghanistan have not been achieved either. So, from the point of view of critics, withdrawing troops under Biden will be perceived as his personal defeat, and he has already promised to “end the war responsibly”. US intelligence services will not favor withdrawing from Afghanistan, primarily because of the drug trade, whose illegal proceeds are something to which they have become deeply addicted, turning Afghanistan during the years of the US occupation into the world’s main producer of heroin.
The situation in Afghanistan was also aggravated by a video conference held between NATO defense ministers on February 18, during which no decision was made about withdrawing the alliance’s troops from Afghanistan by May 1, as stipulated by the agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban a year ago. In November 2020, the alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, already stated – and clearly not without instructions given by Washington – that NATO does not intend to completely withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, despite the US decision to reduce its military forces there. However, it is an open secret that the NATO Secretary General is by no means a figure that can act independently, but rather one whose job is to strictly follow the instructions delivered by the Pentagon. And the US Department of Defense has already unequivocally announced the position on the “Afghan issue” taken by its secretary, Lloyd James Austin. “He assured NATO allies that the United States would not be hasty or disorganized about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Under these conditions, during a press conference following talks between Sergey Lavrov and Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar on February 26, Russia expressed its readiness to resume the format proposed by Moscow for consultations on Afghanistan. In particular, the Russian Foreign Minister stressed that Moscow will continue its efforts to ratchet up contacts between an expanded “troika” (triumvirate) – Russia, the United States, and China now bringing Pakistan on board – on worldwide assistance to help create the conditions for an intra-Afghan national reconciliation process.
As a follow-up to these discussions, a regular meeting of the expanded “troika” dedicated to this intra-Afghan settlement is scheduled for March 18 in Moscow involving special representatives sent by Russia, China, the United States, and Pakistan. The presence of delegations from Iran, Afghanistan and Qatar, prominent Afghan politicians, and Taliban representatives (this movement is prohibited in Russia) is anticipated. In particular, Moscow invited five Taliban representatives and a number of leaders from various political parties – ex-President Hamid Karzai, Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Mohammad Karim Khalili, Yunus Qanuni, and Sayed Mansour Naderi. “During the meeting, it is anticipated that we will discuss ways to help advance the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, reduce the level of violence, end the armed conflict in Afghanistan, and make this country an independent, peaceful, and self-sufficient state, one free from terrorism and drug-related crime,” read a statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry website. Zamir Kabulov, who is the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Afghanistan and the Director of the Second Asia Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated:
“It is not even a conference, but rather consultations among an expanded troika composed of Russia, the United States, China, and Pakistan. Yes, we are inviting representatives from the Afghan government, Afghan politicians, and a Taliban delegation.”
The fact that an invitation has been received to attend the Moscow meeting of the expanded troika on March 18 has already been confirmed by the Taliban’s political bureau spokesman in Qatar, Mohammed Naim. Freidun Hwazun, spokesman for the Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation, also said that Afghan politicians, including President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, received similar invitations for the meeting in Moscow.
At the same time, the United Nations also intends to pick up the pace for multilateral negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives. These talks will take place in Qatar, where the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, has already arrived. She is also scheduled to meet with Zalmay Khalilzad, the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department, who has found time to visit Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Qatar. Deborah Lyons hopes that these contacts will help resolve the future of the long-term format for the negotiations on Afghanistan in Doha, although they have not yet led to any meaningful results.
The day before, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met in Kabul for three days with influential politicians and representatives from the leadership in Afghanistan. The consultations were focused on transitioning to a potential political structure, defining the principles that will govern the future system, and holding a conference on Afghanistan under the auspices of the UN. In a letter sent to President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, the United States proposed creating an interim government. However, that plan was perceived rather equivocally by the Afghan government. As far as the Taliban go, whose members also received this plan, they only said that “it is under review”.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is also trying to put forth proposals for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to form an Afghan government together with the Taliban, and even invited Ghani to convene a conference under the auspices of the UN to discuss this issue. In particular, Turkey has been proposed to them as the place to hold such a conference, with the participation on the part of representatives from the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and India. In his proposals, Blinken described plans on how the Taliban would be represented in the new government, and on changing the Constitution and holding elections after an interim government has been formed.
The proposal to hold an international conference on a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan under the auspices of the UN has already been positively received by the Turkish authorities, and has even been set for March 27 in Istanbul. At the same time, no additional information has been reported on the upcoming conference.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.