Russians take lead to bring sanity to war-torn Afghanistan

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 9, 2018
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Russia was hosting an international conference on Afghanistan on Nov. 9 in Moscow, designed to explore ways to bring an end to the 17-year bloody conflict that has crippled the country. 

There is some hope of this, as representatives of the Taliban insurgents and Afghanistan's High Peace Council are participating, and officials from the U.S., Pakistan, Iran, China, India and the five Central Asian republics – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are also attending. 

The conference was initially scheduled to be held in September. However, it was postponed due to domestic opposition to inviting the Taliban. 

The coming together of key stakeholders in the conflict ahead of Geneva conference on Afghanistan being organized by the U.S. towards the end of November is a good beginning. It offers an opportunity to exchange views and understand the key counter-arguments. 

The conflict has so far defied all moves to bring much-needed peace to the people of Afghanistan facing violence in its one form or other since the late 1970s. Numerous killings and countless sufferings have not seemingly decreased the ferocious appetite for destruction. 

As recently as Nov. 5, the Taliban attacked a post held by Afghan soldiers in the western province of Farah, killing around 20. The areas under control of insurgents have steadily increased since the responsibility for security was handed back to the Afghan government at the end of 2014.

The international community is providing support through at least 16,000 soldiers belonging to 39 countries. The Resolute Support Mission under the auspices of NATO has been key to government stability. However, there is an element of fatigue and the noise to end the war is getting louder. 

Multiple tracks and initiatives to end war failed to yield results. The main cause has been Taliban insistence that the international troops it calls "occupation forces" should leave first. It also sought direct talks with the U.S. instead of dealing with the government in Kabul.

The United States was not overtly interested in the direct talks for various reasons, one being the opposition by the Afghan government. Former President Hamid Karzai was instrumental in making the policy that Afghan government should lead the peace process. 

Yet, things have been changing. There have been meetings behind the scenes, and secret missions to bring the Taliban and Americans to the table. Recently, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalizad reportedly met directly with Taliban leaders in Doha. Now, it seems, there is space for more concerted efforts for peace talks.  

The Afghan government has adopted a saner approach by accepting the realities and not opposing any direct talks by the U.S. with the Taliban or standing between the rebel leaders attending the Moscow peace conference.  

It seems the key stakeholders are grudgingly getting ready for serious peace overtures. Though, with different ideas for Afghanistan's future, they all agree that more violence is not in the interests of anyone. 

Russia has been active on the Afghan front due to fear of a spillover of Islamic State, which is present in Afghanistan and can easily infiltrate Central Asia and from there to the Muslim areas of Russia. This would be devastating after the bloody experiences in Chechnya at the start of this century. 

The Americans, after spending trillion of dollars, find themselves in a blind alley. There never was a viable exit strategy. The government they supported in Kabul has proven its ineffectiveness on several time. American efforts to shift the burden onto India to help stabilize Afghanistan is also taking the situation nowhere. 

Pakistan has experienced the worst kind of violence in its history due to involvement in Afghanistan. Its leadership is wiser now, and there is general consensus that permanent peace in Pakistan is linked with stability and peace in neighboring Afghanistan. 

Most importantly, the Taliban faces a now-or-never dilemma. They can go on killing Afghan soldiers and civilians as collateral, but cannot win total military victory. The stakes for the international community are too high to let the rebels take over Kabul. 

However, it does have the maximum territory under its command since eviction from Kabul in 2001, so this is now the best opportunity for them to bargain it for political gains. 

Hopefully, then, the Moscow conference can come up with new ideas for peace. It has already achieved a degree of success by bringing important stakeholders together.

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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