Moscow Talks | AIR Spotlight

Moscow Talks were aimed at detailed consultations on Afghan issues in a six-party format involving Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Iran and India at the level of special envoys on Afghanistan and senior officials. It was a renewed attempt at finding a peaceful end to the lingering unrest in conflict-ridden Afghanistan.

Moscow Talks | Response from Afghanistan

The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has said that the consultative meeting in Moscow is a positive step in promoting regional cooperation and solidarity in the war against terrorism, however, the meeting is not an alternative for peace talks between government and Taliban.

Moscow Talks | Re-entry of Russia in Afghan scene

  • Although it is believed that the meeting will not be able to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, the involvement of Russia in the Afghanistan’s affairs is an important step in this regard. The Russian initiative is significant due to the return of Moscow to the region as an active player, but had led to apprehensions in Kabul and New Delhi that it was trying hard to bring in Taliban into the mainstream so as to combat its perceived real threat of the so-called ISIS.
  • Moscow has hosted at least two meetings on Afghanistan in less than two months in a bid to bring the much-awaited Afghan peace negotiation process between the government and the Taliban group back on track.
  • Some of the political commentators believe that Russia’s interests in Afghanistan’s political situation and the thaw in ties between Russians and the Taliban would further complicate the war in Afghanistan.

Moscow Talks | India’s concerns

  • The exclusion of Afghanistan and India were objected by the two countries from the previous round of talks raising concerns among officials in Kabul regarding Russia’s intentions.
  • At the Moscow talks, the Russians made it clear that they consider the government of Afghanistan as the legitimate representative of the Afghan people, and not the Taliban.
  • The Russians added that they maintained contacts with the Taliban only due to their concerns and with intention to support Afghan government in potential peace talks.
  • Afghanistan and India were previously concerned about unsubstantiated media reports that Russia was reaching out to the Taliban, and even holding secret talks with the outfit.
  • Reports suggest that the issue of exclusion was raised by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar during his talks with the Russian delegation at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar in early December last year.
  • Further, NSA KC Ajit Doval’s meeting with Russian Security Council secretary on 31st January 2017 paved the way for India’s inclusion. The Indian side was represented by MEA Joint Secretary (PIA Division) Shri Gopal Bagley (the new spokesperson of MEA).

Moscow Talks | Analysis

  • China and Pakistan were present at the previous round of talk in Moscow in December 2016, while India, Iran and Afghanistan’s representatives’ have been invited for the first time in this round of talk.
  • India is concerned and has been observing Russia-led efforts for talks with Taliban, with officials apprehensive about the normalisation of the terror groups which continues to have strings attached to Pakistan military establishment.
  • The argument that Taliban was fighting with ISIS in pockets of Afghanistan did not find many takers in New Delhi, as Indian officials believe that most of the IS fighters are mainly repurposed Taliban members.

Moscow Talks | India’s stance on Afghanistan peace issue

  • India had pointedly pronounced during the discussions that Afghanistan should have the right to choose with whom to hold talks and that the choice should not be dictated by other countries.
  • India on its part noted that “it was essential to end all forms of terrorism and extremism that beset Afghanistan and our region and to ensure denial of territory or any other support, safe havens or sanctuaries to any terrorist group or individual in countries of our region.”

Moscow Talks | Conclusion

Much to the relief of Afghanistan and India, all six countries agreed that the ‘red lines’ for engagement with the Taliban – which include giving up violence, abiding by Afghan constitution and cutting ties with al Qaida – have to be met. All the participants agreed to strengthen efforts to promote the intra-Afghan reconciliation, while maintaining the leading role of the current government of Afghanistan. Participants have also agreed in favour of broadening this format, primarily by adding the countries of Central Asia to it. A sustainable peace solution requires a political solution, free from the use of violence and conflict. Afghanistan has the legitimate right to choose the manner in which it wishes to draw out the action plan for a peaceful transition of its society from the current violent streams.

Raj Malhotra IAS Study Group.