Published On: Thu, Jan 18th, 2018

Russia offers to host talks between Afghan government and Taliban

On Wednesday Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Moscow firmly supported an early start to direct talks “in the interest of ending a fratricidal civil war” and that it was “ready to provide an appropriate platform”.

Russia offers to host talks between Afghan government and Taliban

By Kathrin Hille in Moscow

Russia has offered to host direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban as it seeks a larger role in brokering an end to a conflict that has raged for more than 16 years.

On Wednesday Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Moscow firmly supported an early start to direct talks “in the interest of ending a fratricidal civil war” and that it was “ready to provide an appropriate platform”.

The initiative reflects Moscow’s concerns that Afghanistan might become a new staging ground for Central Asian jihadis pushed out of Syria and Iraq after the defeat of Isis in the region. Moscow claims such a scenario could destabilise Russia’s Central Asian neighbours and threaten its own security.

But the move is also the latest example of Russia exploiting inconsistencies in US foreign policy to insert itself into crisis diplomacy following its intervention in Syria which helped turn the civil war as well as its growing involvement in Libya.

Until now the US has played a far bigger role in Afghanistan than Russia. The US, with Qatar, was the driving force behind diplomatic efforts to bring about peace talks — repeatedly foiled by the Taliban’s insistence that all foreign forces leave the country. But Washington’s approach to Afghanistan, especially since Donald Trump became president, has been criticised as erratic.

Late last year the Trump administration raised hackles with plans to shut the Taliban’s office in Qatar that was opened with international support five years ago and became a conduit for diplomatic contacts. Instead, Mr Trump backed more military force and a deployment of 3,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan.

“The experience of international efforts for stabilisation in Afghanistan proves that attempts at a resolution by force are ineffective,” the Russian foreign ministry said on Wednesday as it called for a process of national reconciliation.

“The situation in Afghanistan is having an impact on the realisation of plans for safe development in neighbouring countries,” it said. “We clearly see the north of Afghanistan gradually turning into a support base for terrorism, headed by Isis.”

Russia has been discussing the Afghanistan conflict with China and Pakistan since 2016. Last year, the Kremlin organised further talks that included the Afghan government as well as India and Iran. Moscow invited the US, which chose not to participate.

Despite having fought the Taliban in the 1979-89 Afghanistan war in the Soviet era, Moscow now advocates engagement because the militant group it not considered to have ambitions beyond Afghanistan, in contrast to Isis.

Omar Nessar, an analyst in Moscow, said the Taliban were “not a direct threat to Russian security, at least not right now”.
While analysts acknowledge renewed fears among Central Asian security services about a potential Isis threat in Afghanistan, they say so far this has not materialised. Mr Nessar said the deterioration in Russian relations with the west since 2014, including Nato’s decision to cut co-operation with Russian on Afghanistan, was an important a factor behind Moscow’s new approach to Afghanistan.

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