ISLAMABAD: Russia is set to host a conference of the representatives from Pakistan, China, Iran and the US as well as the Afghan government and the Taliban on March 18 as part of an attempt by Moscow to break deadlock in the slow-moving peace process.
The Russian foreign ministry confirmed the conference on Tuesday and said the focus would be on “ways to help advance intra-Afghan talks in Doha, reduce the level of violence and end the armed conflict in Afghanistan and help it develop as an independent, peaceful, self-sufficient state that would be free from terrorism and drug trafficking”.
A Foreign Office official said that Pakistan would attend the Moscow meeting as it “supports all efforts that contribute towards peace” in Afghanistan.
Russia is hosting the meeting as part of its diplomatic initiative aimed at developing a “collective mechanism” for the Afghan peace efforts.
Moscow is also pushing for hosting the stalled Intra-Afghan dialogue. The talks that began in Doha in September made slow progress because of differences between the two sides. The situation became further uncertain after the new US administration decided to review the February 29, 2020 deal.
Against the backdrop, Russia is making efforts seeking resumption of Intra-Afghan talks while also seeking broader regional consensus.
For this purpose Russian presidential envoy for Afghanistan Ambassador Zamir Kabulov recently visited Islamabad and sought Pakistan’s support for the Moscow’s initiative.
Moscow hosted a similar meeting in 2018 where Afghan Taliban were for the first time given an international stage. The US attended the meeting as an observer.
The development comes at a time when the US launched a renewed diplomatic push to seek a political solution to the Afghan war.
The US Secretary of State recently presented the Afghan government with a four-point plan envisaging UN sponsored conference of regional players, new inclusive government and 90-day ceasefire.
The Biden administration is also seeking the formation of “transitional Afghan peace government” that would supervise the national elections.
Interestingly, Russia pitched a similar idea seeking interim government with the inclusion of Afghan Taliban and all other political factions.
The US and Afghan government have accused the Taliban for not fully implementing the Doha accord. The US and NATO insist the troops withdrawal is conditioned based. Taliban, however, rejected the allegations that they were not implementing the Doha agreement.
The Taliban listed a number of steps to implement the agreement. The statement noted that not a single American soldier was killed since the deal signed a year ago.
Russia backed the Taliban’s claim and Ambassador Kabulov said the insurgent group “flawlessly” implemented the deal. He instead accused the US for not adhering to the accord.
Moscow is not only seeking a resumption of Intra-Afghan talks but proposing interim government by including all factions including Taliban. The Ghani administration related sharply to the Russian proposal and insisted that the current administration had been given a 5-year mandate.
Key regional countries including Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran have broader consensus on the Afghan peace process. They want a political settlement of the Afghan war and also recognise Taliban as a political entity. Taliban representatives have in recent years frequently travelled to these countries.
The convergence among these key regional players is aimed at preventing Afghanistan slipping into a civil war, something that will pose threat to these countries.