Russian Special Presidential Representative to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov is regarded as his country’s top expert on that war-torn country. He’s also played a pivotal role in various dimensions of its peace process over the years, recently traveling there early last month amidst surging Pakistani-Taliban tensions in what was considered an attempt to alleviate their worsening security dilemma at the time. Due to his renown, it’s important to pay attention to what he says during every media appearance.
Kabulov’s latest such one was with TheWeek, which is a popular Indian magazine and follows his interview with The Hindu in late December. This time he spoke more in detail about India’s envisaged role in Afghan affairs, which he approached from a balanced perspective. On the one hand, he spoke highly about its regional influence, while on the other, he also acknowledged the very serious differences in perception between it and neighboring Pakistan.
Understanding the matter better
In his view, India is an indispensable part of regional processes, especially those concerning Afghanistan. Pakistan is too, however, which is why it’s important for them to put aside their mutual suspicions in order to more effectively cooperate on the shared goal of stabilizing that war-torn country. It’s unclear when Kabulov gave his interview to The Week, but it was published just days after Pakistan skipped the latest Moscow meeting on Afghanistan, which was arguably disadvantageous to do.
He explained that Russia is seeking to build a G5 of responsible stakeholders on Afghanistan, to which end it hopes to assemble China, India, Iran, and Pakistan into this planned platform. Islamabad’s self-imposed isolation from this emerging process is due to its suspicions of Delhi, but nevertheless impedes everyone’s collective efforts to present a united front for encouraging the Taliban to finally implement the reforms that it previously promised the international community after it returned to power.
As Kabulov explained it in his interview, “We believe that [the G5 platform] can be an engine for not only building regional consensus but also for doing something in order to implement this consensus and let the current rulers of Afghanistan know that they should listen to us.” According to him, China was on board with this proposal from the get-go, saying “We agree India is very much important and it should be with us. But at least, persuade Pakistan.”
This is an intriguing anecdote from that influential diplomat since it suggests that even Beijing itself feels uncomfortable with Islamabad’s self-imposed isolation from this emerging process but is also cognizant of the limits to which it can positively influence it. Left unsaid but clearly discernable upon reading between the lines is the larger context of Pakistan’s post-modern coup from last April and the subsequent US-backed installation of a puppet regime there.
Despite that regionally concerning outcome, it should also be remembered that Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (BBZ) visited Moscow late last month to make progress on clinching comprehensive economic and energy deals, which shows that this regime still has some independence. Even so, there’s only so far that it’s willing to go in terms of advancing former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s grand strategic goal of transforming Pakistan into a global pivot state.
Whether due to pressure from its US patrons, hitherto irreconcilable mutual suspicions with India, or a combination thereof, Pakistan still declined to participate in the latest Moscow meeting on Afghanistan. This in turn impedes the creation of the G5 platform that’s supposed to play a major role in positively encouraging the Taliban to do what it previously promised as regards its socio-political commitments. Without any external impetus, that group appears to have become somewhat apathetic.
As Kabulov put it, “We, of course, try not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. But we cannot hide our disillusionment with how the Taliban is handling the situation. It did a great job by kicking out the Americans and all puppet governments. But it has not learned how to run a government. The Taliban has reiterated many times that it has learned its lessons and will not repeat past mistakes. But now we can see the same picture, which is, of course, a pity.”
He continued by elaborating that “The Taliban cannot understand very simple things sometimes, especially when there are no challenges to its power. I mean serious challengers who can dislodge it. It does not mean that such challenges will not come. It will not be someone from the outside. But it will be a normal reaction of the Afghan people because it will be very difficult for them to survive under the circumstances.”
Some of Kabulov’s closing comments carry with them an ominous innuendo such as when he said that “There is diplomacy and a way of persuading. If the Taliban does not buy it, there is another element that is much stronger than diplomacy: it is life. Life will make the Taliban change. But, for that, it will have to start suffering by itself. Not the Afghan people. The Taliban will have to understand that it is going to lose what it has.”
The way forward
Considering the state of affairs as it objectively exists in Afghanistan right now, it’s more important than ever for the G5 platform to be assembled and immediately begins collectively encouraging the Taliban to do what’s needed in order to improve the situation in its country. Pakistan impeded this process by declining to participate in the latest Moscow meeting on Afghanistan, which must have certainly disappointed Russia, especially coming after the Kremlin got its hopes up following BBZ’s visit.
Looking forward, it’ll be difficult for responsible stakeholders to positively influence the Taliban as long as Pakistan continues to isolate itself from the G5 platform, which is of course its sovereign right but it’s also nevertheless counterproductive to everyone’s shared goals in this respect. With a view to resolving this issue, Islamabad should more clearly explain to its counterparts the exact reasons why it refuses to participate in this process, after which efforts should be made to seriously address them.
That said, Pakistan also shouldn’t exploit its position as the G5’s spoiler to score political points against India at the expense of this platform’s Afghan-related goals. If it attempts to do so, including in the scenario that China intervenes behind the scenes to encourage its “iron brother” to moderate its recalcitrant position for the greater good, then it’ll be obvious that it has self-interested and obstructionist intentions that its counterparts might conclude should disqualify it from this platform.
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The article has been republished and the views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.