The Russia-orchestrated “intra-Afghan” dialogue in Doha, April 19-21, did not take place, owing to disagreement over the size and composition of the delegation nominated by the Afghan government. The dialogue was a follow-up of that organized by Afghan community representatives in Moscow in February, which adopted a nine-point agenda for Afghan reconciliation (see Review, 2/19). This time, Afghan government representatives were invited “in their personal capacities”, as agreed with the Taliban. President Ghani announced a 250- member delegation of government and civil society representatives, including 50 women. The Taliban had also indicated inclusion of women in its participation. The Qatar government, at the instigation of the Taliban, suggested a smaller delegation, indicating accepted names. This was not acceptable to the Afghan government.
The Russian MFA expressed regret at this disruption of “the most promising communications channel between various political forces in Afghanistan, including the current Government and representatives of the armed opposition represented by the Taliban”. It put the blame squarely on the Afghan government for selecting an inappropriate delegation not acceptable to “the main opponents, the Taliban” and for thus trying to dictate the terms of the intra-Afghan dialogue. The US also expressed disappointment in a telephone call by Secretary Pompeo to President Ghani, urging him to “reach an understanding on participants, so that an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue can be convened in Doha as soon as possible”.
The US Special Representative Khalilzad then met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts in Moscow on April 25, where they agreed to “prioritize the interests of the Afghan people” in an “inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process”, which would be furthered in the second round of intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha. There was proforma expression of support for the Afghan government in its effort to combat international terrorism, but more significantly, they noted the Afghan Taliban’s commitment to fight ISIS and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ETIM, and other international terrorist groups and to ensure that areas under their control will not be used to threaten any other country. They called for an “orderly and responsible withdrawal of foreign troops” from Afghanistan as part of the overall peace process, urged regional countries to support this trilateral consensus and agreed on a phased expansion of their consultations before the next trilateral meeting in Beijing.
The stage is therefore being set for an external troika to determine the shape and course of an intra-Afghan dialogue, ignoring an elected government (which the US had installed, with Russian acquiescence) and calling on other regional countries to fall in line. As in the days of the Cold War, it shows the ability of great powers to cooperate in mutual interest, even while locked in an acrimonious standoff on the global scene.
April 30, 2019