1 January 2017

Break Down of Global and Regional Consensus on Afghanistan

Break Down of Global and Regional Consensus on Afghanistan

A trilateral was held between representatives of Russia, China and Pakistan in Moscow on the political and security situation in Afghanistan. The meet was focused on growing influence of Daesh in the country. The Russian Foreign Ministry said."(The three countries) expressed particular concern about the rising activity in the country of extremist groups including the Afghan branch of IS (Daesh)," ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters after the meeting. The three countries agreed a "flexible approach to remove certain figures from sanctions lists as part of efforts to foster a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban movement," she added. Afghanistan had however objected to the meeting which had excluded Kabul. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmad Shekib Mostaghni said Kabul had not been properly briefed about the Moscow meeting. "Discussion about the situation in Afghanistan, even if well-intentioned, in the absence of Afghans cannot help the real situation and also raises serious questions about the purpose of such meetings," he said.

A complete breakdown of the global and regional consensus over Afghanistan is evident as Russia, China and Pakistan trilateral held on situation in the country in the absence of any representative from Kabul called for removal of UN SC sanctions on the Taliban. While this has been one of the conditions of negotiations in the past as well by the rebels that this should be suggested as the first step in the process of reconciliation without any commitment seems strange and may not be acceptable to the Afghan government as well as other stakeholders such as the United States. Thus Kabul has come down heavily on a meeting in which the country was not invited despite the dialogue being the third iteration on the subject. Not surprisingly the Afghan parliament came down heavily on the government for failure of foreign policy.

Growing insecurity, an impression of declining influence of the United States and increase in Russia’s regional involvement in tandem with China may thus pose challenge to stability in Afghanistan. Managing complexities arising from differences in the power blocks is likely to remain a major test for the Afghan government in the near future. On one hand is the United States and NATO with countries as India, Japan in tow, while on the other are Russia and China, who have larger interests of the global contest with US adding to their Afghan perspectives. Their approach to directly engage with the Taliban is irking the Afghan government. Pakistan is spanning both the divides and is hoping to have a controlling influence in Kabul. For President Ashraf Ghani this is an additional encumbrance for the global and regional consensus for bringing about peace and stability in Afghanistan seems to be fraying.

Meanwhile there are concerns over attempts by Russia to establish direct links with the Taliban. Alexander Mantytskiy, the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan confirmed Russia has ties with the Taliban, but said the relationship aimed to ensure the protection of Russia's political offices in Afghanistan. "We have ties with the Taliban to ensure the security of our political offices, consulates and the security of central Asia," he said. The aim of such contacts appears to be essentially to ensure that own assets are secured and for this purpose channels are kept open with the rebels. Ambassador Alexander has also indicated that it is not just the Russians but even Americans and other countries are having contacts with the Taliban which is likely to be true even though the same will not be acknowledged.

In fact countries as Iran have openly denied having any truck with the rebels, even though it is clear that there could be some outreach if not open engagement to preserve own interests. Tehran is reported to have publicly hosted leaders of the Taliban at the ‘Islamic Unity’ conference. Iran has been consistently denying direct contact with the Taliban movement. Apart from the Track 2 engagement it is apparent that there is a Track 1 open as confirmed by the Iranian ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Reza Bahrami.

Saudi Arabia is also reportedly backing both sides. It has reportedly backed Islamabad's promotion of the Taliban and wealthy Saudis are also said to have privately funded the insurgents. Officially however, Saudi Arabia has supported the U.S mission and the Afghan government Taliban former finance minister Agha Jan Motasim stated that he had been raising funds through private resources in Saudi Arabia and had been visiting Riyadh and Mecca for the purpose from time to time. That Saudi royals and other Gulf countries including Qatar have been supporting militias is well known and has been the crux of the challenges that have been faced in other parts of the World as well including the Islamic State or the Daish. With the Taliban the links go further back as Saudi Arabia was also one of the few countries which had recognized the regime in Kabul.

The Taliban claimed that they're giving China the green light to restart a $3 billion mining project which was denied by the Afghan government. "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan directs all its Mujahideen to help in the security of all national projects that are in the higher interest of Islam and the country," the Taliban announced on Nov. 29, adding that a massive copper mine called Mes Aynak is among the sites it is "committed to safeguarding." As per a Wikipedia entry - Mes Aynak copper mines are located in a barren region of Logar Province. The site contains Afghanistan's largest copper deposit, as well as the remains of an ancient settlement with over 400 Buddha statues, stupas and a 40 ha (100 acres) monastery complex. It is also considered a major transit route for insurgents coming from Pakistan. The Afghan Mining Ministry estimates that the mine holds some six million tons of copper (5.52 million metric tons). The mine is expected to be worth tens of billions of dollars, and to generate jobs and economic activity for the country, but threatens the site's archaeological remains. Archaeologists are only beginning to find remnants of an older 5,000-year-old Bronze Age site beneath the Buddhist level, including an ancient copper smelter. The Chinese have not been able to harvest the copper despite having signed an agreement with the Afghan government due to presence of the Taliban as well as the resistance of the archaeologists for preservation of the heritage. It now remains to be seen if after the so-called green signal from the Taliban there is any progress in the same.

China is also providing emergency aid to the north eastern Badakhshan province. The mountainous area of Badakhshan province links with China through the Wakhan corridor and has connectivity with Xinjiang which is rocked by militancy. While there are no known bases of Uighur militants which operate under the umbrella of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, China is concerned that they would be provided with a base in this area and thus it is connecting with the people by providing one million Yuan ($145,000) in cash aid for calamity-hit families. There were also reports of Chinese military patrols operating in this zone which has since been denied, but there are enough reasons to be worried over the fall out of the spread of groups as the ISIS for the Chinese military to have a discreet presence in this zone in some form.

Countries as India, however, are using the Afghan government effectively for contacting the Taliban in the case of any requirement such as the rescue of person kidnapped. It now remains to be seen how far the dual approach adopted by Russia, China or Iran pays regarding the security of their personnel or assets as also contributes to political and economic stability in the country. 

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