by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 10, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1440)
History has moved full circle in Afghanistan. This December marks the 39th anniversary of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan that ended in February 1989. While the erstwhile Soviet Union withdrew its forces from the country, Afghanistan has not had peace. In an interesting twist, Russia has now stepped forward to try and negotiate an end to the fighting and bring peace to the war-torn country.
There are two parallel tracks working. One track involves talks between the Taliban and the US and the other is the Moscow-led effort that involves Afghanistan’s neighbors as well. This is a regional effort and has greater chance of success because all regional countries are stakeholders in Afghanistan’s future, just as they are directly affected by the ongoing war.
On November 9, Russia convened a meeting in Moscow regarding peace in Afghanistan. Representatives of 11 countries attended. In addition to the Taliban, representatives from Pakistan, Iran, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan joined the Russian-led effort. India too sent several former officials of the foreign ministry. The US embassy in Kabul sent an observer.
While initially opposed to the Moscow initiative — an earlier meeting scheduled for September was postponed at Kabul’s urging — the Ashraf Ghani regime was forced to relent. But instead of sending a delegation composed of government officials, a four-member delegation from the High Peace Council (HPC) showed up in Moscow.
Ghani clearly feared being totally marginalized if someone from the regime did not attend. The US-backed Ghani-regime has little control over Afghanistan. Even the US has confirmed this despite pouring billions of dollars into the landlocked country.
Prior to the opening of talks at a Moscow hotel on November 9, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his government hoped “through joint efforts to open a new page in the history of Afghanistan.” He said that the participation of both Afghan leaders and the Taliban was an “important contribution” aimed at creating “favourable conditions for the start of direct talks.” He urged the participants to hold “serious and constructive conversation that will justify the hopes of the Afghan people.”
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid had earlier told the French news agency, AFP, that the group was sending five representatives. He emphasized, however, that they will not hold “any sort of negotiations” with the delegation of the Kabul regime. “This conference is not about holding negotiations with any party whatsoever, rather it is about finding a peaceful solution to the issue of Afghanistan,” he added.
This has been the position of the Taliban from the beginning. They have insisted and now gotten the US to talk to them directly. Two rounds of talks have been held, both in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain an office. The Trump regime appointed the rabid neocon, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad to be Washington’s point man for Afghanistan. He served as US ambassador to Kabul when the Taliban were first ousted from power at the end of 2001. Hamid Karzai was installed in power but Khalilzad acted as the US viceroy. After completing his stint, Khalilzad revealed that at the beginning of each week, he would meet Karzai who would ask, “What is our agenda for this week?” One wonders how Karzai would react to such insults today. He was present at the Moscow meeting to ensure he remained “relevant” in Afghan affairs.
By all accounts, the Moscow meeting was a big achievement for the Taliban. The group was recognized as a major player in the Afghan political scene, even if it is officially banned from operating in Russia and is classified as a “terrorist organization.”
While little concrete came out of the Moscow gathering, the fact that such a meeting took place with the Taliban as well as representatives of the High Peace Council present in the same room is a major breakthrough. The Afghan regime’s confusion — and perhaps frustration — was evident when a foreign ministry statement emphasized that the council did not represent the regime at the meeting. Does the High Peace Council not have support of the Ghani regime?
It is, however, Russia’s more assertive role that is significant. Instead of continuing to react to developments in its neighborhood, it has adopted a proactive posture. Events in Afghanistan affect both Russia and the Central Asian republics — Russia’s “near abroad” — directly. Moscow has also realized that it carries greater credibility with the protagonists than the US.
Further, the regional approach also has support of Iran and Pakistan, two countries that have been most adversely affected by the ongoing war in Afghanistan. In fact, Iran has all along insisted that the solution to the crisis lies in a regional approach.
All regional countries are also concerned about the presence of ISIS terrorists that have flooded Afghanistan in recent months. Russian officials have stated quite categorically that Americans are directly involved in bringing these mercenaries into Afghanistan. Even Karzai holds this view and has said as much.
The big question is, will these parleys lead anywhere? The answer lies with the US intentions in Afghanistan. So far, the Americans have given no indication that they want to leave the country despite its military commanders in the field issuing dire warnings to the Pentagon about the unsustainability of the military campaign. So why does Washington persist with a mission that it knows it cannot sustain or win?
The answer lies in American hubris and oversized egos. Nobody wants to admit defeat, especially at the hands of a ragtag band of Taliban. This will not be the first defeat the Americans have suffered in their history. What seems to be unpalatable to them is that people living in the Stone Age have defeated the self-proclaimed superpower with the largest military budget in the world. Think of incompetence!
Washington’s dilemma is that its real masters — the military-industrial-banking complex — need endless wars. Wars are a profitable racket. Let the children of the poor die in some far off land as long as the elite can rake in trillions of dollars in profits. Besides, these elites also want to deprive other countries, notably China and Russia from benefitting from Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.
The US, however, cannot defeat the Taliban and one day it will have to bite the bullet and flee. Why not do it in an organized manner and save the humiliation is a question no American wants to answer. This is the price that hubris demands; pity the American people!