Russia in an attempt to continue taking leadership in this region has asked five countries to join it to discuss the future of Afghanistan. This includes the earlier trilateral dialogue partners, Pakistan and China. However, after protests by Afghanistan in December, it along with Iran and India are also to be invited to the talks to be held in Moscow in mid-February.
Russian media reported on the proposed talks, after the meeting held on Tuesday, between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghan Foreign Minister. In what is becoming the new norm of recent Russian foreign policy the United States has not been invited.
Russian media has reported that the United States is not precluded from attending these meetings, it has not been invited because the Trump administration has not announced its Afghanistan policy yet.
UN earlier this week reported a tenfold increase in attacks in 2016, by the Islamic State group in Afghanistan,
Russia is very worried that the protracted Afghan conflict is helping ISIS get a foothold in the region by extending its activities to northern Afghan regions in its bid to infiltrate bordering Central Asian republics, and ultimately undermine Moscow’s national security interests.
The UN earlier this week reported a tenfold increase in attacks in 2016, by the Islamic State group, particularly targeting Shia Muslims in Afghanistan, resulting in around 900 civilian casualties (209 deaths and 690 injured).
The heart of Asia meetings – became a contest match between India and Afghanistan as to who could blame Pakistan more for terrorism in the region.
India which was not part of the quadrilateral discussions earlier, and has been keen to be involved in discussions over Afghanistan’s future, in particular in peace talks that involve the Kabul government and Taliban.
On the other hand, Pakistan, has always been resistant to India involvement in Afghanistan, not least because of it’s allegations that Indian agencies are using Afghanistan and Afghan NDS as their base to launch intelligence operations on Pakistan.
It is not clear whether it was the Russians or Afghans that wanted to invite India. The last meeting held to discuss Afghanistan – heart of Asia meetings – became a contest match between India and Afghanistan as to who could blame Pakistan more for terrorism in the region. If the same game is continued in Moscow this month, then no positive outcome can be expected.
All the direct regional neighbours of Afghanistan; Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran want the Kabul government to sit down and have talks with the Taliban. Earlier this week, Deng Xijun, China’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, encouraged President Ashraf Ghani to talk with the Taliban and resolve issues as they had with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. India has never viewed the Pashtun Taliban as a partner in Afghanistan and is not in favour of Afghan government talks with them.
The Russian Foreign minister reiterated to the press after his meeting with his Afghan counterpart that “We have confirmed our common stance that Taliban should be involved in a constructive dialogue in keeping with the criteria contained in the U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
However, last month Gen. John Nicholson, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, spoke out against Russia’s extension of an olive branch to the Taliban as offering “overt” legitimacy to a group intent on toppling the Afghan government.
While it may be ironic that yesterday’s freedom fighters against Russia, today are their friends. In politics, however the saying goes there are No permanent allies or enemies, only permanent interests. Russians recognize that the Taliban have limited aims to keep power inside Afghanistan versus ISIS whose aim is to create an Islamic caliphate around the world.