GP Insights

GP Insights # 175, 3 November 2019

Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG) on Afghanistan: The US, China, Russia and Pakistan meet again
Parikshith Pradeep

What happened?

During 24-25 October, representatives of US, China, Pakistan and Russia met in Moscow, in a bid to resolve the Afghan crisis. They issued a joint statement advocating for peace while respecting Afghanistan’s ‘sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity’. The group pushed for the mutual release of prisoners by the Taliban and the Afghan Government. The statement also took a positive note on the upcoming meet in China which includes Afghan officials and representatives from numerous stakeholders in the war-ridden country. On the other hand, China, Pakistan, and Russia urged the US to resume the peace process in Afghanistan.

What is the background?

While the US, China, and Russia met for the fourth time, Pakistan held its second round of consultation with these countries. The QCG consultation gains prominence after Trump cancelled the peace deal with the Taliban. It also comes in the midst of rising death rates on the Afghan soil last quarter as per the UN Report, released this October. The report points to more than 8,000 casualties in the period between January and September this year.

The QCG’s attempt towards Afghan peace talks has been jittery since its formation in 2016. Trump’s plan to pull back troops from Afghanistan plays a major role in fulfilling his 2016 election promises and justifying his presidential manifesto for the elections in 2020.

What does it mean?

China and Russia’s role in the peace process have grown significantly. Afghan government’s participation in the upcoming talks in Beijing, signals a subtle shift in the geopolitics of Afghanistan. Ghani’s willingness to engage highlights the sway of non-US powers. This could delegate a wider bargaining plate to both China and Russia.

Second, despite American rhetoric demeaning Pakistan in their Afghan policy, Islamabad could gain larger autonomy in deciding Afghan-Taliban affairs. Chinese prominence in QCG could leeway better prospects for Pakistan to influence the peace process. However, Pakistan may continue to reap dividends regardless of outcomes from the peace talks.

Third, the US’s recent withdrawal in Syria signals a larger shift in its American Foreign policy and its efforts at competition with China and Russia lays seeds to a speedy Afghan retreat. This is in line with Trump’s policy of ‘drawback’ which could otherwise be perceived as the American incapability to steer geopolitical affairs. With Zalmay Khalilzad at the forefront, the US is passing the baton to other players. The US may have started seeking asylum from global institutions, critical regions, and international affairs for national benefits. However, this refuge should not be without thorough care and prudence, and at the cost of international order, which significantly depends on the actions of the United States. 

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