By Daniel Hurley
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has invited representatives of the Taliban, Afghan government, and delegates from 11 countries bordering Afghanistan—including China, Iran, and Pakistan—to peace talks in early September (1). Held in Moscow, the conference will serve as a platform for all attendees to negotiate an end to the longstanding conflict between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents.
Upon receiving notification of their invitation, the Afghan government’s Foreign Ministry declined to attend the conference. “A peace process can only be initiated and brought forward by the Afghan government,” ministry spokesman Sebghatullah Ahmadi told DW during a phone interview (2). Only if Afghanistan’s interests are at the forefront of the negotiations, and the Afghan government leads those negotiations, will the government actively participate in the discussions. Without such direction by the government, the peace talks would be unsuccessful, according to the spokesman.
Afghanistan’s government was not the only government to decline their invitation and express doubt in the likelihood of the conference proving successful. Arm-in-arm with the Afghan government, the United States will not be attending “as a matter of principle”, according to a State Department official (3). Believing in the effectiveness of Afghan-led efforts, the U.S. is reluctant to support talks led by other parties. Moreover, based on the ineffectiveness of previous Russia-led meetings on Afghanistan, the upcoming talks are “unlikely to yield any progress toward that end” (3).
Without both Afghan and U.S. government representatives attending the peace talks, the extent to which the conference makes progress in negotiating with the Taliban is uncertain. On the one hand, the very fact that this conference is happening poses a threat to the diplomatic work already undertaken by both governments publicly and in secret. For months, Afghan and American officials have been engaged in negotiations with the Taliban. Engaging in new discussions, without Afghan and Americans present, could lead to decisions being made that dilute the progress that Afghan and American negotiators have achieved thus far. Despite this potential side effect, however, the Taliban seems not to be phased by the absence of both governments.
From the Russian’s perspective, the benefit of engaging in talks outweighs the risks of not doing so. Since the Taliban continues to fight the Islamic State in Afghanistan—which is an increasingly transnational threat to the region and Russian homeland—maintaining positive relations with the Taliban is an important aspect of the Russian’s national security strategy in their fight against terrorism. With Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan—all former Soviet republics that maintain close relations with Russia—bordering Afghanistan, the Kremlin fears that violence could spill over into Central Asia from Afghanistan.
Moreover, because Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to both expand Russia’s influence in the region and bolster his country’s reputation as a peacemaker on the global stage, leading peace discussions helps achieve both goals. Concurrently, taking on this leadership role can hinder the leverage that the U.S. has over Russia on other peace negotiations, such as in Ukraine and Syria, if the Moscow-talks prove successful. So far, the U.S. has been unsuccessful in its attempts to persuade the Russians to give Crimea back to Ukraine, and end the devastating civil war continuing to unfold in Syria.
Daniel Hurley is a senior at The College of New Jersey where he studies Political Science.
1. Ferris-Rotman, Amie. "Russia invites Taliban to Moscow for Afghanistan peace talks, expects delegates to attend." The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/moscow-invites-taliban-to-moscow-for-afghanistan-peace-talks-expects-delegates-to-attend/2018/08/21/049da532-a547-11e8-ad6f-080770dcddc2_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.55e9a3c39ee0. Accessed 24 August 2018.
2. Baldor, Lolita C. and Matthew Pennington. “US declines invitation to Russia-led talks on Afghanistan.” Associated Press, https://apnews.com/b271ff1d4e2e4143a0645baac593068a. Accessed 24 August 2018.
3. Staudenmaier, Rebecca. “Afghanistan will not attend peace talks with Taliban in Moscow.” Deutsche Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/afghanistan-will-not-attend-peace-talks-with-taliban-in-moscow/a-45188310. Accessed 24 August 2018.