Whether Afghanistan is on the verge of blossoming or on the verge of collapsing is yet to be seen. Before the 11-nation Afghan Peace Conference, hosted by Russia, there was a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) formed in January, 2016 to advance the peace process with the participation of US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. All these states conducted talks with Taliban, though Russia sensed it was marginalized. Eventually this effort of the QCG did not accomplish its objective. Instead Moscow organized a three party meeting on Afghanistan included Russia, China, Pakistan.
Russia held a second meeting of the six-nations on Feb. 15 with the addition of India, Iran. Assessing the resurgence of Russia in the contemporary international political scenario, its first and foremost objective was to remind the West not to ignore Moscow’s interests in the Afghanistan matter at regional and international platforms.
Now, this is the third time that Russia has hosted regional talks in five months with the expansion of an additional five Central Asian States. The paramount stakeholder US, did not join this regional consultation/talk while its great role was emphasized simply by the dropping of the non-nuclear, Mother of All Bombs in eastern Afghanistan’s Achin district of the Nangarhar Province. But, also on the eve of regional talks, US State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner titled this consultation as Russia’s Vanity Project.
The US Administration’s absence from the conference is depicting an increased geopolitical rivalry between US and Russia. This contemporary world is not uni-polar but going towards multi-polarity. Many emerging powers such as China and India are playing their role regionally and internationally. Russia is also resurging with its role in different parts of the world. It has also taken steps for the International Afghanistan Peace Conference and invited US on its soil for talks. There is still a conflicting scenario between Russia and US. It is impossible for Russia alone to set up a diplomatic podium to find ways for reconciliation in the war-torn country and settling Afghanistan drawn out struggle and Taliban insurgency. Though Russia is concerned about the Afghan resolution and has claimed that it does not want to allow ISIS or any other extremist group with ambitions beyond the Afghan border by establishing footholds in the country and threatening the former Soviet States (Central Asian States), most of them have defence agreements with Russia.
Hence, it is pertinent for all global and regional powers to set up a platform to actualize Afghanistan peace and stability on its soil rather anywhere else.
Simultaneously equal involvement of US is a pre-requisite otherwise another Mother of All Bombs is quite possible.
As far as Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are concerned, they have been deteriorating with charges and counter-charges regarding sheltering anti-states militant attacks. Another factor which is prominent that is the growing Indo-US ties probing India to play its influential role in Afghanistan. Af-Pak ties are not on an even keel.
All these events, which are discussed above, have strong implications on Pakistan. Pakistan should raise its voice that it has been playing indispensible role in countering terrorism rather promoting on regional and international forums to avoid the Mother of All Bombs on Pakistan’s adjacent border with Afghanistan.
Tasneem Aslam, Pakistan’s Foreign Office Additional Secretary said that Pakistan welcomes the extended format of the peace conference on Afghanistan. She told Sputnik News, “ in our view, it was useful discussion, and was an extended format. Five Central Asian States shares common border with Afghanistan and any instability in Afghanistan have an impact on them in many ways. The Pakistani Diplomat said that these regional talks were fruitful and all the participant 11 countries were willing on the idea of reconciliation as this is the only roadmap for Afghanistan. While US State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner said that Washington’s regional peace efforts “seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region that wasn’t constructive this time”. These conflicting views forecast another war game in this region, pursuing their own regional interests. Eventually geopolitical rivalry will be increased between these two states.
If we analyze the whole situation in Afghanistan, the conflict in this country is not open like Syria while its low-intensity conflict where the situation escalates sporadically and there are occasional incidents in each province. The overall situation is not homogenous in this country. Some provinces such as Punjshir, Dykundi, Bamiyan or the northern city of Mazr-e Sharif are relatively less affected by conflict driven violence. More violence is in northern Kunduz, Southern Helmand or eastern Nangahar.
Assessing the geo-political alignment in South Asia where China-Pakistan and Russia are getting closer for joint ventures, including joint military exercises between Russia and Pakistan. The latter is committed to work with the international community to support efforts for peace and recompilation in Afghanistan. Simultaneously smooth Pakistan-US relations are pertinent for peace and stability in the region. Stability and peace in South Asian region primarily depends upon the stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan is worried of the violent campaign of IS which shares 2600 Km border with Afghanistan. It is crucial for both Pakistan and Afghanistan to establish greater interactions at different levels specifically at government to government level for border management, revival of Afghan peace process and to enhance trade and commerce.
In essence, if the US and other western states were on the negotiation table in Moscow, it would have been a major breakthrough for the peaceful solution for the future settlement of Afghanistan. At least this meeting could have paved the way or laid the common ground talks for the final settlement.
*Asia Maqsood is a research associate at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad.