Afghan Peace Talks: US-China-Russia

Spearhead Analysis – 29.04.2019

By Hira A. Shafi
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Recently, a trilateral meeting among US, China, and Russia was held in Moscow. The aim of this meeting was to draw consensus on the Afghan Peace process.

According to a media note issued by the US State Department: Representatives of the United States, China, and Russia met in Moscow on April 25, 2019, and exchanged views on the current status of the Afghan peace process. The three sides reached consensus on the following:

  1. The three sides respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Afghanistan as well as its right to choose its development path. The three sides prioritize the interests of the Afghan people in promoting a peace process.
  2. The three sides support an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process and are ready to provide necessary assistance. The three sides encourage the Afghan Taliban to participate in peace talks with a broad, representative Afghan delegation that includes the government as soon as possible. Toward this end, and as agreed in Moscow in February 2019, we support a second round of intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha (Qatar).
  3. The three sides support the Afghan government efforts to combat international terrorism and extremist organizations in Afghanistan. They take note of the Afghan Taliban’s commitment to: fight ISIS and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ETIM, and other international terrorist groups; ensure the areas they control will not be used to threaten any other country; and call on them to prevent terrorist recruiting, training, and fundraising, and expel any known terrorists.
  4. The three sides recognize the Afghan people’s strong desire for a comprehensive ceasefire. As a first step, we call on all parties to agree on immediate and concrete steps to reduce violence.
  5. The three sides stress the importance of fighting illegal drug production and trafficking, and call on the Afghan government and the Taliban to take all the necessary steps to eliminate the drug threat in Afghanistan.
  6. The three sides call for an orderly and responsible withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of the overall peace process.
  7. The three sides call for regional countries to support this trilateral consensus and are ready to build a more extensive regional and international consensus on Afghanistan.
  8. The three sides agreed on a phased expansion of their consultations before the next trilateral meeting in Beijing. The date and composition of the meeting will be agreed upon through diplomatic channels.

The contours of the joint statement highlight a degree of convergence of interests -in relation to Afghanistan- at the international level. The meeting highlights a shift from aspirations of externally crafted concepts of state building to delegating the responsibility to Afghans to offer their indigenous concepts of nation building. Inculcating harmony at the local level is a tough task, the fragility of the situation is highlighted through stalls over small divergences- as was seen in the recent Qatar talks. Currently, President Ghani is forming a peace jirga which aims to harness views of various Afghan political heads in defining a coherent standpoint of the Afghan Government towards the Taliban– but even the attempt is not contention free, as prominent Afghan politicians have boycotted the jirga, terming it as a campaigning stunt by President Ghani. Therefore, a broad yet unified contour of a future political setup in Afghanistan may have to be offered by regional and international powers. It remains to be seen what incentive could be offered to the Afghan to engage in a productive dialogue that leads to consensus.

The second key goal which has secured the support of all three international powers is the elimination of international terrorist groups from Afghanistan. This goal is closely linked to an inclusive national political consensus and then an inclusive augmenting of the capacity and capabilities of the Afghan security apparatus- to meet internal and external challenges. There is a perception that the US is looking to minimize its security footprint in Afghanistan and phase out in stages– this would require a clear outline of objectives and detailed mechanisms. The US is also a major donor of Afghan security assistance so how would a drawdown impact US security assistance to Afghanistan and how would the development and training of the Afghan security apparatus be ensured? This too, may require an international consensus amongst US, NATO and SCO’s RATS platform. Economic cooperation amongst the bigger powers- especially US and China- has also become essential in order to reverse a drug and war based economy. Utopian peace in Afghanistan is a long way down the road . The dynamic fluctuations between peace and violence highlight the complexity of the Afghan crisis. Nonetheless, the recent trilateral meeting is a positive step, which would now require cooperation in formulating a broad political-security and economic end state, this would require the support of all regional players- ultimately creating the environment for Afghans to disentangle and resolve an array of national issues. With convergence among external players including Pakistan the pressure has increased on Afghans to get their own act together. The recent statement by PM Imran Khan that Pakistan would not meddle in Afghanistan’s internal affairs has had a positive impact especially in the context of steps to strengthen border security, stabilize and consolidate FATA into the mainstream and stress the importance of the return of Afghan refugees for Afghan –Pakistan security internal security.