Alwaght- In September 2018, the US President Donald Trump named Zalmay Khalilzad the special peace envoy to Afghanistan. Khalilzad engaged in several rounds of talks with the Taliban representatives in Qatar and the UAE. After four rounds of negotiations, the American envoy announced a draft peace plan on January 28 between the Afghan government and the militant group. However, all of a sudden a new Afghanistan peace meeting was announced to be held in Moscow gathering together prominent Afghan political figures and the Taliban negotiators. The news drew speculations about the real goals behind the conference. Alwaght has talked to Pir Mohammed Molazehi, an Iranian Afghanistan affairs expert, asking him for comments about the peace talks.
The first question was about the points of the Moscow meeting and why Russians organized this meeting while the US-Taliban talks have reached a sensitive stage. In response, Mr Molazehi said that we are in front of three Afghanistan peace initiatives, one sponsored by the US, one by Iran, and one by Russia. Compared to the earlier Moscow meeting, the recent one saw the presence of a wider circle of Afghan figures including the former president Hamid Karzai, former Vice-president Yonus Qanuni, and former Minister of Water and Energy Ismail Khan, three of whom now play an opposition role. The Taliban also had a considerable presence this time.
Another point, he said, is that the Afghan government was not invited to this gathering, or if even it was invited, it could not attend because the Taliban reject to recognize the Kabul government. The insurgent group, however, had announced readiness to talk to the opposition figures and former mujahideen. In the Moscow talks, the group said it did not recognize the constitution and called for its change. They also presented a list of demands.
“Concerning the Russian goals, the fact is that after long years of non-interference in Afghanistan due to the bitter defeat of the Soviet forces there, over the past two years, Russians talked to the Taliban and there were rumors that Moscow provided them with some aids. This means that Moscow takes advantage of the Afghanistan public discontent with the American-caused instability to burnish its largely damaged face dating back to invasion of the country in the 1980s and support of the communist rule there. Russians are to a large degree restoring the Afghan trust.”
Another goal for Moscow engagement in Afghanistan peace talks is motivated by worry about Washington’s long-term plans in the Central Asia region, Mr Molazehi added. After Washington signed a security pact with Kabul, which allowed it to stay there up to 2024, Russians felt that Americans pursued long-term plot against Russia’s national security in the region including nurturing ISIS terrorist group. Moscow alert brought Russia close to the Taliban. Now with the talks, Russians seek the US out of Afghanistan using the Taliban pressure against the foreign presence.
Commenting on the effects of the Moscow meeting on the course of the US-Taliban peace talks, the Afghan affairs expert said that the two initiatives do not look so conflicting. Because both Qatar and Moscow talks at the end of the road seek to put the central government and the Taliban into the path of peace.
“There is a unity of view both in Qatar and Moscow that the UN should step in for finalizing the peace like what we saw in 2001, the year the Taliban government collapsed. In that year, the UN, via the Loya Jirga, or the tribal council, helped new constitution approval and the new political system that saw the election of Hamid Karzai as first post-Taliban president. So we can say that US-led and Russia-led talks seek almost similar final goals but there are differences in tactics. Still, they agree that without the UN neither the Taliban will admit to the central government legitimacy nor will Kabul accept the Taliban conditions and demands for peace.”
Asked why Kabul criticized both Qatar and Moscow processes, Mr Molazehi noted “The fact is that in the two processes, the Afghan government, as a power holder, has been ignored. Or is bypassed, to be exact. This is while the central government expects to be a key side in any equation and peace talks. But this expectation is unaddressed because the Taliban argue that the Kabul government is a puppet one and devoid of legitimacy. So, we can understand why President Ashraf Ghani and his government are angry.”
The Iranian expert also pointed to the fact that there is no united view inside the government itself. The government structure remained divided since a dispute over power between Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the CEO of Afghanistan, led to a power struggle. “As we can see, Abdullah’s view of the talks is more positive than Ghani’s. Ghani insists that without the involvement of the central government and even neighbors he will not approve of any peace deal.”
The final question was about the outlook for peace while Kabul and the Taliban do not recognize each other. Here is the answer: “The fact is that the war has run into an impasse. Neither Taliban can seize Kabul nor is the central government capable of neutralizing the militant group. Even if we suppose that the Taliban beat the government, a new war will break out this time with the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks which means war does not end but only the battlefield locations and warring sides will change. In such a situation, the political settlement becomes a priority though it is not easily achievable. This makes peace dialogue tough and long. But at the end of the road, a peace deal is required between Kabul, the Taliban, opposition, ethnic groups, and former mujahideen. There should be a mechanism sharing the power between the four ethnic groups of Pashtuns, Hazaras, Tajiks, and Uzbeks supported and recognized by the world community and the neighboring countries. I think that there are problems ahead, but there is no way for them but bowing to a comprehensive reconciliation.”