GP Insights # 486, 21 March 2021
On 18 March, Russia hosted the first of the three international conferences to revive the stalled Afghanistan negotiations. The Moscow conference endorsed the 2020 UNSC resolution 2513 that opposed the restoration of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The conference was attended by representatives of the Afghan government (Abdullah Abdullah), Taliban (Mullah Baradar), Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation (Zalmay Khalilzad), and several other countries, including China, Pakistan, Iran, India.
At the opening of the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "We hope that today's conversation will help create conditions for achieving progressive inter-Afghan negotiations." Four countries - Russia, China, the US and Pakistan issued a joint statement. It stated that they would not support the return of the Islamic emirate system in Afghanistan, recognized the will of the Afghan people for peace, called for a reduction in violence from all sides and the Taliban to not launch a Spring offensive.
What is the background?
First, the inability of the Doha negotiations to achieve a substantial outcome. Since the start of the negotiations in Doha in 2020, the sense of urgency to find common ground, reduce violence and move forward to substantive issues has not been possible. Instead, the negotiating parties continued to remain divided, both on procedural issues and on the validity of the US–Taliban agreement.
Second, the entry of other regional players. Before the Moscow Conference, regional players did not have a direct role in the Afghan negotiations. A meeting in Turkey of regional players next month will follow the Moscow Conference.
Third, the United Nation's entry into the negotiations. Over recent months, the UN has expressed its readiness to assist in the Afghan talks. The spokesperson for the UN secretary-general said, "We stand ready to assist the parties as requested. Our role must and will always be in support of the Afghan people and must be agreeable to the parties in the conflict."
Fourth, renewed efforts by the US in reviving the stalled negotiations. The Moscow conference comes amid new developments in efforts to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan, including the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's letter to President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah and the US-proposed draft for Afghan peace.
What does it mean?
The Moscow conference is seen as a critical first step in restarting the negotiations. However, the conference is merely an exit strategy constructed by the US-based on unrealistic timelines and agendas that do not solely bring a solution for Afghanistan.
With the UN entering the negotiation, it will move from the side-lines to a more central role. However, the UN has to go beyond the rhetoric and implement practical confidence-building measures between the two groups. Peace in Afghanistan needs to be 'Afghan-led' and 'Afghan-owned,' which is still missing. However, regional and external assistance is crucial for Afghanistan; left on their own would have repercussions. Thus, the negotiations would have to find a balance between the two.