Date: 29 October 2019
Friend or Foe: Russia Gets Support in Afghan Peace Talks
Moscow is renewing efforts to resume dialogue between the United States and the Taliban. Following a visit of the Taliban delegation in September, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad made a trip to Moscow on behalf of Washington. But most importantly, Pakistan and China, with the presence of the latter seen as somewhat crucial, also sat down at the negotiating table. Beijing is getting involved in a new round of peace talks on Afghanistan. China’s stance is on the one hand consistent with Russia’s but Beijing may soon seek to replace Moscow as a leading mediator.
On October 25, the U.S. chief peace negotiator for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad visited Moscow for a meeting with Russian hosts and counterparts from China as well as Pakistan. A post-meeting statement said that participants reiterated the need for all parties to the Afghan conflict to resume the negotiation process and reach a U.S.-Taliban agreement in an effort to pave the way for launching intra-Afghan talks. Russia, China, the United States, and Pakistan called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to “release a significant number of prisoners at the beginning of intra-Afghan negotiations.” The recent round of face-to-face talks has been the first one on the agenda since the delegates from the four countries held their last meeting in Beijing in July. And so, signs were that the Afghan civil war could soon come to its end. In early September, U.S. President Donald Trump refused to take part in peace talks following a deadly terrorist attack in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul that left 12 people dead, of which a U.S. soldier. Initially, peace talks with the Taliban were also scheduled to take place with the participation of U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
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Attention should be drawn to China’s ever-growing commitment to intra-Afghan peace negotiations. Beijing, for its part, has followed suit of Moscow by hosting Afghan officials and the Taliban delegation, and earlier the latter had talked with their American counterparts and had made a trip to Moscow. The meeting took place on October 28. But at this stage, it remains unclear whether Beijing merely backs Russian efforts or intends to advance its own interests, perhaps to the detriment of Moscow’s ambitions. Russia has long made efforts to narrow down or to derail Western pursuits –– and chiefly the U.S. presence on Afghan soil. In Afghanistan, Moscow’s top intention is to serve the role of a critical peacemaker in the Afghan civil war while ensuring dominant influence in the country’s capital.
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