Afghanistan has so far proven itself to be the most frenzied enigma of the present times. It has tempted many empires in medieval era and states in modern times due to its unfortunate geo-strategic location. Soviet Union and United States both remained engaged in a proxy war inside Afghanistan during the cold war period. The two countries also invaded the latter for their own reasons.
India and Pakistan also used Afghan soil for their national interests, not foreseeing the disastrous consequences. Iran could also not hold back in this milieu; it had to jump in to defend its security interests. It is often argued that in individual capacity, one can talk of morality, but when it comes to statecraft, morality takes a backseat. Owing to this narrative of statecraft-ship the war-torn Afghanistan was set to become a breeding ground for the world’s most notorious extremists and terrorists groups.
However, the definition of power and influence has experienced a transition from hard to soft form. Diplomacy, trade, regional alliances and collectivism have become the core ingredients in contemporary power description. Solo flight can get one nothing, at least not as anticipated. In this backdrop of modern diplomacy, all the stakeholders and regional players have come to conclusion of working together for peace in Afghanistan to avoid spillover effects of terrorism. Recently, many countries have initiated such moves including China, Russia, and Pakistan. In an effort to revive the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the first meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-United States-China Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) was held in Islamabad on January 11, 2016.
The meeting emphasized the necessity for instant recommencement of direct dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban. All four countries agreed to pursue efforts as part of an intensive schedule of meetings and discussions. The talks focused on adopting a clear and realistic assessment of the opportunities for peace and reconciliation. It also stressed on the “hurdles involved and plausible measures to be taken to create a conducive atmosphere for the recommencement of dialogue. Further meetings of this group also commenced till halted due to escalated tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan after deadly terrorist bombings across the Pakistani cities within few days.
On the other hand, Moscow hosted a trilateral meeting in December, 2016 comprising China, Pakistan and Russia to ponder over unfolding security situation in Afghanistan and rising threat of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in particular. Meanwhile, both Moscow and Beijing are establishing contacts with Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table. Russia and Taliban are time old enemies of each other, but in the present era, it is need of the time to sit together for regional stability. Chinese officials are also holding crucial meetings with Afghan Taliban’ representatives to persuade them that there is no way out except peace.
Russia’s Ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Y. Dedov acknowledged contacts between his country and the Afghan Taliban, but said they are aimed at promoting reconciliation in Afghanistan. Kabul was certainly not happy with the trilateral meet-up in Moscow as being the major stakeholder it felt bitterly ignored. “Even if such talks are organised with a good will, it cannot yield any substantial results because no one from the Afghan side is there to brief the participants about the latest ground realities,” Ahmad Shekib Mostaghni, Afghanistan’s foreign affairs ministry spokesperson said. Along with Afghanistan, the United States, which still has nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan more than 15 years after the Taliban was toppled, was also not invited to the Moscow talks. Washington had felt distraught over not being included in that anti-IS bloc and is was uncomfortable over being left out from the three-way deliberations on the situation in Afghanistan. Though, representatives from the three countries, meeting in Moscow, agreed to invite the Afghan government to such talks in the future, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova of the Russian Foreign Ministry said in the press release.
Later, in mid-February, Kremlin hosted six nations meet-up to discuss Afghan dilemma and growing ISIL threat in the region. Prior to that, Salahuddin Rabbani – the Afghan Foreign Minister visited Moscow on an official invitation from his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. The two sides held talks on political, technical, military, economic, trade and cultural issues. This paved way for Afghanistan to join six nation moot. With Afghanistan, Iran, and India were also invited to the new initiatives. In the beginning, India and Afghanistan opposed the three-nation meeting in Moscow, but later they adopted a softer stance. Immediately following the meeting, Afghanistan’s foreign minister was sent to visit Beijing where he was told about the key role Pakistan can play in the peace process.
On the other hand, Trump administration’s policy on Afghanistan remains unclear as no solid official statement has been issued so far. It is anticipated that the Trump administration’s influence on Afghan peace talks will not be as vital as it was believed to be. The governments of India and Afghanistan have urged the US to continue its role in Afghanistan to maintain the internal balance, but the US response remains restricted to some vague rhetoric from Trump. In the latest developments, Russia has hinted at involving the United States in a newly-launched regional dialogue which Moscow says is aimed at seeking a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan.
A general but distant thinking has developed among analysts that these new developments may finally help to bring peace in the war-torn Afghanistan after three decades of destruction and violence. China and Russia, both super powers, want a peaceful solution to the situation in Afghanistan, mainly because this region is geographically primed to be one of the connecting hubs for the economic activities of the ambitious Silk Route project. Without peace in Afghanistan, mega economic projects like the Silk Road, the Eurasia Union or the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas line project will falter. For this purpose the two arch-rivals, Pakistan and India, were requested to sidestep their differences for greater peaceful coexistence in this region.
Saddam Hussein is pursuing an M Phil. in Public Policy from School of Public Policy, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad while working as a research intern at Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.