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Moscow conference on Afghanistan

Russia, on Saturday, hosted an international conference on Afghanistan. The conference is deemed as significant towards restoration of peace in the war-torn country. What, in the ultimate end, gives one a hope is the participation of Taliban leadership in the conference. It was for the first time that Taliban attended such an event. Countries also present in Moscow conference included China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Central Asian states. The US had the observer status. Even as Afghanistan government was not invited to the conference, Members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which oversees peace efforts, were also present. Taliban had said that they would hold talks with the US, not with the government in Kabul. The conference is aimed at kick-starting peace talks after decades of bloody war in the mountainous country. One may not expect quick results from the Moscow conference but the fact that the Taliban and Afghan delegates are in the same room in Russia with Washington also around is seen as significant. Earlier, Taliban representatives had held talks with the Trump administration’s special adviser on Afghan peace, last month, in Qatar. Zalmay Khalilzad, a hawkish diplomat appointed as the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation had also met with six Afghan Taliban leaders.

Zalmay had earlier held consultations in Islamabad, Riyadh and Doha also. This also reflects the America’s fresh thinking to acknowledge the political and military reality in Afghanistan. America invaded Afghanistan in October, 2001 in the aftermath of terror attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 resulting in dislodging of Taliban government, which the America thought, was sheltering the master-minds of American attack. After initial defeats, Taliban, however, gathered their strength again pushed the American and its allied forces to the wall by capturing almost 45 percent territory of the country. The Afghan strategy by Trump last summer, which aimed at boosting Afghan security forces and the presence of the US troops, did not prove to be effective enough to defeat the Taliban. The US seems to have got frustrated by the Taliban attacks in the capital Kabul and other strategic cities. What is most worrisome for the US is that it is losing on all counts and finds itself in a nutcracker situation. It can neither afford to exit as a defeated super power, nor can it stay for long. It has lost the war but is not acknowledging it and badly wants a face saving formula. It can exit only through negotiations and not via northern network which is no more available to ship out heavy baggage.

 

The US is faring poorly on all other fronts including the domestic front where Trump has become highly unpopular. What added American woes further is the Russia and China’s growing interest in Afghanistan. As the things stand now, Afghanistan problem has crossed over of US interests. The emergence of Sino-Russian camp and the possibility of Pakistan slipping into it with Iran and Turkey, is also giving the Trump administration sleepless nights. The US fears the possibility of Russia giving surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban to counter air threat. The superiority of America in air attacks is the only factor that stops Taliban from walking through Kabul. India’s walking into America’s lap and its involvement in Kabul is the last thing Pakistan and Taliban would ever accept. The Trump administration seems to have finally understood the dangers of continuing its military engagement in Afghanistan. Today Afghanistan portrays a dangerous spectacle with Pakistan, America, Russia, China and India—all nuclear powers—involved in game-play. One cannot ignore Iran and Turkey as well. They too have developed their interests in the region. In this backdrop, the Moscow conference is a major initiative towards peace in Afghanistan.