US Doublespeak Hinders Afghan Peace

by | Nov 6, 2018


Within hours of the announcement on Saturday by the Russian Foreign Ministry that the second meeting of the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan will take place on November 9, the US government-funded Radio Free Europe and Liberty has announced that the Afghan government will not participate in the forthcoming meeting.

The text of the Russian Foreign Ministry statement is reproduced below:

On November 9, Moscow will host the second meeting of the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan at the level of deputy foreign ministers and specialized special representatives. Invitations to participate in the event were sent to the participating countries – Afghanistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, as well as the United States. The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, A. Gani, decided to send a delegation of the High Peace Council of this country to the meeting. For the first time, a delegation of the Political Office of the Taliban Movement in Doha will participate in an international meeting of this level. The agreement of the final document is not provided.

The meeting will be opened by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey V. Lavrov.

The Russian side reaffirms its position that there is no alternative to a political settlement in the IRA and the need for active coordinated work of the neighboring countries and regional partners of Afghanistan in this direction.

The RFERL is a Cold War era propaganda tool of the US government. Its report quotes an Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sibghatullah Ahmadi as saying, “Our discussions on this topic are still ongoing. We have not yet reached an agreement with Russia about how and when the Moscow meeting should take place.” Curiously, as yet, there is no independent Afghan confirmation of the RFERL report.

One gets a sense of deja vu. Clearly, the US reserves the prerogative to engage with the Taliban on peace talks and will not countenance any third party challenging its monopoly to negotiate with the insurgents. The US took fright from the first Moscow conference on Afghanistan in April 2017.

From the Russian statement on Saturday, it is apparent that Kabul confirmed its participation in the November 9 meet. (So have the Taliban.) Presumably, no sooner than Washington got wind of it, it caught the Afghan leadership by the scruff of its neck and is making it recant.

This brings out starkly that the Americans have made a vassal state of the once-proud Afghan nation. Is there any better evidence needed as to where a strategic alliance with the US can eventually take any country?

Even the last residual ounce of legitimacy that Ghani may be enjoying today will drain out when the RFERL so publicly humiliates him as a mere puppet on a string. So much for America’s respect for “democratic values”!

Such brazen American pressure tactic can only give added credibility to the Taliban claim that they represent the “resistance” against foreign occupation of their native land.

Why is the US so adamant that Russia cannot play a role in Afghanistan?

Since 2001, Russia has actually supported the new Afghan system that the US put in place and has made contributions to the reconstruction efforts in the country, including training the Afghan security forces, supplying military equipment, supporting joint counter-narcotics activities with the US, and even providing development aid. This is one thing.

On the other hand, no one can deny that Russia has legitimate interests in an Afghan settlement, especially with regard to the security of the Central Asian region that forms its soft underbelly. In particular, the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan causes serious problems for the regional states, especially Russia. (By the way, we now learn inter alia from the latest quarterly report to the US Congress by the American watchdog agency the U.S Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that the US is no longer pursuing a “stand-alone” counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan, outsourcing to Kabul government, which is barely coping with the security challenges, any further efforts to combat the opium and heroin trade that generates most of the Taliban’s funding.)

Why such mortal fear of any Russian role in peacemaking in Afghanistan?

The answer is simple: Washington insists on an Afghan settlement that guarantees the preservation of the American military bases in Afghanistan ad infinitum. The disquiet in the American mind is that the regional states that are stakeholders in peace and stability in Afghanistan may advance a peace process with the Taliban, which does not duly accommodate open-ended American military occupation of that country.

Therefore, so long as Taliban refuse to budge from their demand that Afghanistan’s sovereignty should be restored and foreign occupation must end, the US will prefer to continue to wage the war. Period.

Stemming from the above, yet another question arises: Why does the US want so desperately its military bases in Afghanistan?

For, if reasonable guarantees can be built into an Afghan settlement on the security issues, foreign occupation of that country becomes superfluous.

Herein lies the contradiction. Prima facie, the Trump administration wants to end the war, but in reality, the objective of the war itself has narrowed down to the preservation of the American military bases in Afghanistan.

As recent developments show, Washington will sup with the devil, if need be, provided it can keep its bases in Afghanistan. (See my blog US takes leap of faith toward Taliban, al-Qaeda)

Why are these bases so crucially important?

The crux of the matter is that these bases provide vital underpinning for the US’ regional strategies vis-à-vis the regional states surrounding Afghanistan – Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China, in particular.

The recent appointment of a hugely controversial neocon Cold Warrior with a record of hostility toward Pakistan, Iran and Russia, Zalmay Khalilzad as the US special representative testifies to the US intentions. Although an ethnic Afghan notionally, Khalilzad is a widely disliked figure among Afghans, including among the Kabul elite.

The Afghans see him as a brusque and ambitious careerist who may strike some Faustian deal over their heads with the Taliban at some point. Privately, even President Ghani apparently abhors Khalilzad’s appointment as the new American viceroy but is helpless because the latter also happens to be a representative of the US security and defense establishment.

All in all, the proposed Moscow conference on November 9 becomes a litmus test of the US intentions. There is nothing wrong in the conference bringing face to face the representatives of the Kabul government and the Taliban. Isn’t it a great thing that the Taliban is affirming in front of an august regional audience that it is amenable to persuasion and is willing to reconcile?

Arguably, something good may even come out of the Moscow conference in the direction of ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled’ peace process.

The bottom line would be that the Moscow conference may help forge a much-needed regional consensus on an Afghans settlement that is crucially important for peace to be durable, but is, alas, lacking today.

Washington should not act like a dog in the manger, blocking light at the end of the long tunnel of the 17-year old brutal war it waged in Afghanistan.

Reprinted with permission from Indian Punchline.


  • Melkulangara Bhadrakumar

    Former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. Devoted much of his 3-decade long career to the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran desks in the Ministry of External Affairs and in assignments on the territory of the former Soviet Union. After leaving the diplomatic service, took to writing and contribute to The Asia Times, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. Lives in New Delhi.

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