By Banafshe Esmaili

Taliban and Moscow summit; the diplomatic push to America

September 2, 2018

TEHRAN - The Russian Foreign Ministry has recently announced that 12 countries, including Iran, Pakistan, India and China, have been invited to participate in September in a Moscow summit, but the United States and the Afghan government have stated they will not attend.

On the other hand, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announced that the representatives of the group will attend the conference and express the Taliban's demands at the conference. Regarding the Taliban acceptance, Mujahid said that the Moscow summit is primarily about exchange of information.
The Taliban's representatives at the Moscow meeting indicate that the group, along with its military efforts, will push Washington to take a more constructive role in Afghanistan.
Michael Kugelman, the Deputy Director of the Asia Program at Wilson's think tank, called the Taliban's political plan an exploitation of Moscow-Washington relations at a meeting in Russia. The Taliban will indirectly try to push the United States at the summit and try to discern what the Russians have to offer.

The Taliban's widespread attack on Ghazni is part of the Taliban's bilateral military and diplomatic strategy. Based on the calculations of the group on the battlefield, this may provide leverage at the negotiating table. In the Taliban's view, the members of the group believe in victory on the battlefield and hence will work to create the best conditions for negotiation. Even if they fail, they will “return with gladness to the battlefield and continue the war.”

The fact is that America is deeply concerned about Russia's role in Afghanistan. If Russia can break the deadlock in the peace talks with the Taliban, then the United States, in spite of all-out military dominance in Afghanistan, will leave the game to its traditional Russian rival in diplomacy. Kabul and Washington have repeatedly expressed their concerns over Moscow's independent ties with the Taliban, and with this in mind won’t attend the Moscow summit, which is one of the outcomes of the relationship.

However, Afghanistan has not raised such a precondition for any of the meetings held previously at the Peace Center in Afghanistan. In the past, there were also meetings in which representatives of Kabul and the Taliban were present at the same time, but no direct dialogue ensued between them.

On the other hand, the United States alone and independently of the Taliban is currently engaging in comprehensive negotiations, which neither the Kabul government nor the people of Afghanistan know about. The fact is that Kabul and Washington are opposed to any political process towards peace alongside Moscow's initiatives.

Afghanistan, however, welcomes the initiative of countries like Uzbekistan and Indonesia, hoping that they could open the Taliban to direct talks with the Afghan government. At the Moscow summit, the Taliban will be directly present, and it is possible that this summit will eventually lead to a direct dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban, whatever Washington thinks.

The U.S.-backed government in Kabul deliberately ignores the heavy costs of direct and independent U.S. talks with the Taliban in Qatar, ignoring the question of Afghan sovereignty and political independence.

The Kabul government's opposition to the meeting is obvious. But Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan National Security Directorate, strongly criticized the lack of participation of the Afghan government representatives at the Moscow summit, saying that Afghanistan's direct diplomacy is much needed for any resolutions. He added that the Taliban's participation in the Moscow conference in the absence of representatives of the Afghan government could begin the identification of two government offices in the country and even the unofficial division of Afghanistan. Moscow's conference and the official Russian public relations with the Taliban show that Afghanistan's diplomacy has been split in the defense of the legitimacy of its government in the region.

Also, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, during a meeting with Russia's ambassador to the country, in turn, endorsed the Russian initiative for peace in Afghanistan, saying that the only way to save Afghanistan from the current terrible situation is through talks between all Afghan parties and the renewal of regional and global cooperation.

However, Russia will eventually impose its presence and hegemony in Afghanistan on Kabul and Washington, and open up a new chapter in the peace process. Kabul, even if it cannot decide and act independently of Washington, at least should mention the harmful and disturbing consequences of ignoring efforts by others to foment peace in the country. The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for almost two decades and so far nothing has been accomplished and certainly not won by the U.S. The U.S. presence amounts to an occupation of the country.

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