Konarovsky Michael, a member of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Extraordinary
The period after the withdrawal of the main part of western troops from Afghanistan in 2015, has not let come true the weak hope that the authorities can cope with the challenges of stabilizing the situation and ensuring peace in the country. A dialogue with the armed opposition could be the basis for it, but Kabul has not been able to establish it.
Weakness of the "postkarzai" National Unity Government and its security forces was complicated by the long-lasting economic crisis. The fact that Kabul continues focusing primarily on the massive external aid, while growing and the illegal distribution of drugs is still the backbone of the economy of the IRA.
Independent experts also recognize that the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, though much better equipped than Taliban, are still not able to seriously resist them. The death of Mullah Omar last year, has led to further fragmentation of the Movement, and his successor, Mullah Mansour only narrowly escaped a fatal attempt on his life. The distinctive feature of the new situation is the overall growth of Taliban armed activity, regardless of seasonal changes. Last year was also marked by a significant strengthening of the position of so-called "Islamic State" on the Afghan territory and its forces cover a number of areas, not only in the East and Southeast of the country but also some Northern areas.
The most alarming is the situation in the Afghan-Tajik and Afghan-Turkmen directions. Against this background, the confrontation between the Taliban and "ISIS” fighters is gaining momentum. ISIS uses the internal contradictions within the Taliban to remaster militants in their ranks.
It is absolutely obvious that any possible course of events in Afghanistan: from the preservation of the current government to transition of government into the hands of religious-radical and extremist circles can only have a solution based on national consensus, which is not easy to achieve. Moreover, the circle of those who have to negotiate is expanding: today it includes not only numerous traditional elite, but also a new one emerging from the regional authorities and the leaders of the armed opposition of various kinds. It is very difficult to achieve consensus in such a situation. Mutual suspicion and mistrust among the local elite, permanent war of all against all, etc. is not the best background for the search of solutions.
One of the main objectives of the current government is starting talks with the Taliban leaders. Vigorous Kabul foreign policy maneuvering (including the establishing of a dialogue with Islamabad) resulted in two rounds of negotiations, which became possible through the active efforts of China and Pakistan and with the support of the United States. However, negotiations have stalled just at the beginning, because the parties were not ready to deviate from its prerequisites. Kabul wants the Taliban to respect the country's constitution and lay down their arms, and they, in turn, require the withdrawal of foreign troops, release of prisoners from jails and lifting UN sanctions against the leaders of the Taliban radical movement.
In order to increase the external pressure on Taliban at the request of Taliban the pre-existing coordination mechanism (Pakistan, the United States, and Afghanistan) has been extended and now includes China. It should be noted, that Beijing is taking a growing interest in Afghan affairs. The resulting "quartet" is mainly engaged in the elaboration of formulas acceptable to the resumption of the dialogue between the warring sides. Of course, there are differences in specific interests of the four powers. Washington wants to show its activity in the Afghan peacekeeping, and the achieved progress, before the end of the presidential term of Barack Obama. Islamabad aims at saving the political leadership in the Afghan process. Beijing is committed to providing the prospect of their economic interests, as well as making efforts to neutralize the dangerous influence of radical Islam in the Northwestern regions of China, inhabited by Uighurs. However, the four coordinators are bound by a common understanding of the need to begin the process of intra-Afghan dialogue as the most rational way out of the impasse in which the country is captured.
Earlier this year, Washington and Beijing once again have assured Kabul of their support of the negotiations, it is trying to establish with the armed opposition, confirming their words with new material contributions to the improvement of the Afghan armed forces. Washington allocated $ 2.5 million for this purpose, Beijing more than $ 70 million.
In this context, the recent Islamabad gesture of sending the head of Pakistan General HQ, General Rakhil Sheriff to Kabul to take part in the NATO contingent command transfer ceremony was quite indicative. At the meeting with the IRA President Mohammad Ashraf, Ghani Sheriff reiterated that he supports the efforts aimed at restoring peace and stability. Earlier, US President Obama, recognizing the "lack of combat capability" of the Afghan security forces, had announced the decision to conserve the current number of US troops in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has supported the decision and is going to visit Kabul soon. This trip can be of high importance for the Afghanistan leadership, in the light of the July Alliance summit, where the development of new steps on Afghanistan issue is expected.
Yet, an attempt of the "Coordination Quartet" to start the inter-Afghanistan negotiating process based on the developed "road map" once again, can be regarded as a significant event of the year. Now all they need is to persuade the disparate but ambitious Taliban and their armed allies to agree to take part in the meeting, which mediators offered to host in early March. March is passing by; but the tasks on agenda have not been accomplished yet. The question of realistic terms is being doubted both in Kabul and outside it.
And what about Russia? Its political and economic interests in Afghanistan (after the collapse of the USSR) have undergone significant adjustment. The main challenge for the foreseeable future, is to prevent the spread of religious and political extremism and drug trafficking from the territory of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Central Asia and the Russian Federation. The increasing dynamics of the ISIS phenomenon in this country determines the need for additional monitoring of the situation and adoption of preventive counter-terrorist measures, in alliance with the countries of the region. The need for close attention to the situation in Afghanistan, and to the processes happening in the country, is dictated also by the fact that the achievement of internal consensus could be dragged on for a long time, and therefore the situation will remain turbulent for years.
Formally not being a member of the "coordination quartet", Moscow, for its part, however, also urges Taliban to speed up peace talks with the government. Neither objectively nor subjectively, Russia cannot be uninterested in the pacification and stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan. Moreover, it cannot help but counter the spread of terrorism and religious and political extremism in the region, as it threatens its national security. That is why recent attempts of some Western representatives and some media to interpret Russian contacts with some Taliban almost as an attempt to discourage the Afghanistan peace process look ridiculous enough. The recent transfer of 10 thousand units of machine guns produced in Russia to the Internal Ministry of the country, the contacts between the defense and law enforcement agencies, next session of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation recently held in Kabul, the constant "synchronizing of watches" with regional and international partners concerning the situation in Afghanistan give us quite an eloquent illustration of the situation.