The Moscow Conference
Dr. Farouq Azam
18 March 2021
The representatives of China, Pakistan, Russia and the US met in Moscow on18 March 2021 to discuss, ostensibly the intra-Afghan process for a negotiated political settlement. The conference was attended by Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, (AHCNR), prominent Afghan political figures, and representatives of the Taliban movement, as well as Qatar and Turkey as guests of honour. The Afghan government not only did not send its representative but was not happy with the Moscow Conference. Omar Daudzai, Senior Advisor to the Afghan President and the President’s Special Envoy for Peace, openly criticised the conference (see: https://fb.watch/4t-PzKT5ff/).
The Taliban objected to the presence of Rashid Dostum in the Moscow Conference, not only for his criminal and human rights abuse record but for entering the peace conference with the war uniform. The UN Secretary-General was criticised by some participants for appointing a French diplomat, Jean Arnault. France so far supported the anti-Pashtun Northern Alliance who is part of the conflict in Afghanistan and the bitter enemy of the Taliban.
By inviting different groups from Kabul, Moscow indicated implicitly that the Afghan Government was neither a united entity and nor alone can represent the Afghan state. Those who participated in the conference without the consent of the Afghan Government proved the conference assertion in this regard.
The four countries have agreed as follows:
· A negotiated political settlement.
· Asking the Taliban to reduce the level of violence and not to pursue the spring offensive. But did not ask the Afghan Government and the US to reduce the violence. This means the Taliban are in offence and have an upper hand on the battlefield.
· The four countries do not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate. It was a clear message to the Taliban that the global and regional powers will not support the way they were used to rule - a monopoly of power.
· Call for an inclusive government. It acknowledged the necessity for a new government in Afghanistan. It is not clear what the conference meant by ‘inclusive’.
· Call on the Government of the Islamic Republic and the High Council for National Reconciliation to engage openly with their Taliban counterparts regarding a negotiated settlement. The final statement of the Moscow conference showed that neither the Afghan Government alone could represent the Afghan state nor the HCNR. Both together can be considered one entity. Also, the conference termed the Taliban as the counterpart of the two teams combined, coming from Kabul. It implies that the Kabul Government alone, without HCNR, cannot be a counterpart and thus cannot enter the Afghan peace negotiations.
· Call for the modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire without addressing the causes of the fire.
· Strongly advocate a durable and just political resolution that will result in the formation of an independent, sovereign, unified, peaceful, democratic and self-sufficient Afghanistan, free of terrorism and an illicit drug industry, which contributes to the creation of pull factors for the voluntary, sustainable and expeditious return of Afghan refugees, stability and global security.
The above paragraph is promising, though the principles that the four countries claimed to advocate were violated by them in the past 43 years and the miseries of the Afghan nation are the result of their violation of the very principles.
· Call on all Afghans including the Government of the Islamic Republic and the Taliban to ensure that terrorist groups and individuals do not use Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country. This call can be interpreted in two ways: (a) The call is only for the period when both sides negotiate a peace deal; (b) if the call implies after the settlement as well, then it means that there will be no united Afghanistan. Here, the conference implies that some sort of instability will continue, and the two enemy parties will be controlling their part of the country in future.
· Reaffirm that any peace agreement must include protections for the rights of all Afghans, including women, men, children, victims of war, and minorities, and should respond to the strong desire of all Afghans for economic, social and political development including the rule of law. It seems this call is only a formality as Afghan women and children in the past four decades are the victim of foreign aggression. Also, in the past 20 years, the majority is brutally suppressed, not the minorities.
· Encourage all concerned countries to support the Afghan people and contribute to lasting peace in the interest of all.
· Reaffirm our commitment to mobilize international political and economic support for a post-political settlement Afghanistan.
· Appreciate the long-standing support of the State of Qatar to facilitate the peace process, and we support the continuation of discussions between the parties’ negotiating teams in Doha, which began in September 2020 and which have resulted in meaningful progress toward a political settlement. By shifting peace talks from Doha to Moscow, Turkey, etc., indicates the four countries were not happy with the continuation of peace talks in Doha.
· Welcome the UN playing a positive and constructive role in the Afghan peace and reconciliation process. Though the UN has played a little positive role in Afghanistan in the past few decades.