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