The “Moscow format” of talks on Afghanistan, bringing together all regional and global stakeholders in the Afghan peace process, was poised for fresh take-off in September 2018, with Moscow’s announcement that Afghanistan would be a co-host and the Taliban would attend (Review, 8/18). In a loss of face for Russia, the meeting was called off at the eleventh hour, because the Afghan government withdrew from it, presumably under US pressure. On November 9, Russia was able to convene the talks. The Afghan government did not participate, but deputed a delegation of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. The Taliban was represented by its Qatar-based leadership. India sent two former senior diplomats – former Heads of Mission in Pakistan and Afghanistan – as non-official representatives. The US Embassy in Moscow sent a representative. 

The meeting itself had no substantive outcome, other than its participants agreeing that direct intra-Afghan peace dialogue was needed to advance an Afghan-led national reconciliation process, that neighbouring countries and regional partners of Afghanistan should work in coordination to facilitate this and that the Moscow format was an appropriate mechanism to continue consultations. 

The participation level and outcome were sufficient for Russia to be able to claim a diplomatic achievement: bringing the Taliban and nominees of the Afghan government together at one table and endorsement of the Moscow format as a legitimate mechanism. It enabled Russia to claim legitimacy for its interactions with the Taliban and to claim that, while the US was engaged in separate one-to-one negotiations with the Taliban, Afghan government and some stakeholders, Russia is transparently engaging with all stakeholders.  
India’s decision to send representation (albeit non-official) was perhaps under pressure from strategic partner Russia and (as per some reports) on the recommendation of the Afghan government. It may also reflect a realization that when virtually every major stakeholder (US, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, China) admits to varying degrees of engagement with the Taliban and recognizes that any political solution in Afghanistan has to include the Taliban in some form, it cannot continue with its isolationist attitude. The fact that US envoy Khalilzad’s wide-ranging consultations on Afghan reconciliation have not included India may have also been an input. 

 

November 29, 2018 

About the Author

Born in 1955, Ambassador Raghavan holds a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in Physics and a B.E. in Electronics & Communications Engineering. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1979. From 1979 to 2000, he had diplomatic assignments in USSR, Poland, United Kingdom, Vietnam and South Africa, interspersed with assignments in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi. From 2000 to 2004, he was Joint Secretary in the Indian Prime Minister's Office dealing with Foreign Affairs, Nuclear Energy, Space, Defence and National Security. Thereafter, he was Ambassador of India to Czech Republic (2004 - 2007) and to Ireland (2007 - 2011).

He was Chief Coordinator of the BRICS Summit in New Delhi (March 2012) and Special Envoy of the Government of India to Sudan and South Sudan (2012-13). Ambassador Raghavan conceptualized and piloted the creation of the Development Partnership Administration (DPA) in MEA, which implements and monitors India’s economic partnership programs in developing countries, with an annual budget of $1-1.5 billion. He headed DPA in 2012-13. From March 2013 to January 2014, he oversaw the functioning of the Administration, Security, Information Technology and other related Divisions of MEA. Since October 2013, he was also Secretary [Economic Relations] in MEA, steering India’s bilateral and multilateral external economic engagement. Ambassador Raghavan retired from the Indian Foreign Service in January 2016, after serving from 2014 as Ambassador of India to Russia. Since September 2016, he is Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India.