Members of each delegation in Moscow beside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Image credit: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters.
Afghanistan has a long history of participating in local and international conferences on peace. The Bonn Conference was the start of a series of other conferences on peace and stability hosted in Afghanistan. The Afghan government has put together or at least sent a delegation to myriad conferences to gain international support for their peace efforts with opposition groups in the country.
Despite this trend, the last Moscow Peace talks were held in Russia without the presence of an Afghan government delegation. Organized by an Afghan-Russian Association, the conference took place six days after successful talks between the US and the Taliban occurred in Doha, according to US Special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. The Taliban refused any direct conversation with the Afghan government, but agreed to sit down with delegations from the United Sates, India, Pakistan, China, and prominent Afghan political figures including Hanif Attmar- a favorite to take over as president in the upcoming presidential elections- to talk peace. In the meantime, the Afghan government, the main absentee of the conference, called them traitors and urgently called for direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
After two days of negotiations in Moscow, an agreement was reached. The Taliban, accusing the Kabul government of being an “American puppet”, asked for a withdrawal of American forces from the country, the release of detainees, and the inclusion of the principle of Islamic Religion in the constitution. Former president Hamid Karzai, leading the Afghan delegation, declared the talks a “big achievement” that would bring peace and stability in an “Afghanistan free of foreign forces”. Current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared the Afghan delegation in Moscow illegitimate to represent Afghanistan in the conference.
Russia has been a low-key player in Afghan affairs since the beginning of the War on Terror. The Russian government, concerned about security in the Central Asia, keeps a close eye on Afghanistan. The latest peace talk in Moscow was a step by Russia towards taking a major role in influencing Afghan governmental affairs, and sets precedent for future Russian involvement in Afghanistan.
Seeing the Taliban sitting at the table with decades-old political enemies to talk peace is the long-awaited desire of all Afghans, but it certainly poses risks. The Taliban went to Moscow demanding what seems to be the return of the Taliban regime of the 1990s, the withdrawal of foreign forces, Sharia Law, and no sign of womens’ appearance within the government. The Afghan delegation, on the other hand, was comprised mainly of political figures who fought on the front lines of the fight against the Taliban. Thanks to differences between these two parties and the disparity in their motivations for negotiating, the fear is that an agreement between them would be more of a political move to grasp power in Kabul than a long-term solution for peace.