After an all-but-assured peace deal between the United States and the Taliban fell through, the terrorist group met with officials in both Moscow and Beijing as it courts more negotiating strength on the eve of Afghan elections. US President Donald Trump cancelled a top-secret meeting with organization leaders at Camp David following the death of an American soldier in a Taliban attack in Kabul. The cancellation rendered nearly a year of work behind-the-scenes to bring peace to Afghanistan useless.
While little is known of the meeting between Taliban negotiators and Russian diplomats on Sept. 13, it was potentially an effort by the group to return to discussions with the Trump administration, a position which Russia expressed its desire for as well. While Taliban negotiators still have an open line of communication with Washington, it will take an intermediary force to bring the two back together. Russia provided the most opportune venue as it has proved successful for discussions in the past. Previously, the group held a forum with Afghan leaders including former President Hamid Karzai.
The decision to visit Moscow almost immediately after plans with Trump were abandoned may be viewed from a couple different perspectives. First, it could help bring Washington and the terrorist group back to the discussion table as all sides, Russia included, have openly declared the urgency to end the Afghanistan war. Russia was a part of the process that initially brought the two parties together as Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy to the peace process, met with Russian officials on at least two occasions during that year-long process.
On the other hand, Moscow and Washington have often had opposing goals when it comes to the Middle East and Afghanistan in particular. It was only 30 years ago that Russia went to war against US-backed Afghan insurgents following an unpopular Communist coup in Kabul. With US support and financial backing, the insurgents prevailed, setting the tone for the following years.
Another possibility is that with the meeting between Russian and Taliban officials, Moscow might gain more leverage in multi-lateral talks on Afghanistan at the United Nations General Assembly this week.
“We have been providing diplomatic assistance,” said Zamir Kabulov, special envoy for Afghanistan. “In addition, we count on holding consultations with our American partners in the nearest future and urge them to return to the dialogue.”
Russia’s imperative for following the peace process to its end may give it a larger voice in the eventual discussions surrounding a new Afghan government, but it may also truly be for the sake of peace.
“According to a well-known saying, when diplomats fall silent, guns begin to speak. Unfortunately, the protracting of the ‘pause’ in the negotiation process leads to an escalation of hostilities. We are already witnessing an increase in armed activity on the part of both pro-government forces and the armed opposition,” Kabulov said.
Afghanistan is faced with upcoming presidential elections on Sept. 28, a prospect that a peace deal would presumably have avoided. After securing peace with America, the Taliban would have turned to the Afghan government for mediated discussions on how to divide power. Under such a power-sharing agreement, the elections would likely have been suspended in lieu of the creation of an interim government. The Taliban refuse to negotiate directly with the current government, however, necessitating the inclusion of outside powers such as the U.S. and Russia.
Russia is not the only state the Taliban is visiting – it also made visits to Tehran and Beijing. The only news from the Iranian meeting was from Abbas Musavi, Foreign Ministry spokesman, who only confirmed that Taliban negotiators had arrived to discuss “the latest developments in Afghanistan.”
In China, Taliban negotiators discussed the best way to create peace in Afghanistan. According to Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesman, Beijing officials were supportive of the previously-arranged US–Taliban peace deal. China has a vested interest in peace in the Middle Eastern state as the two have a common border. Beijing is also included in meetings between the Taliban and Russian and American negotiators, so it is not uncommon for the group to meet with them.
The Taliban’s globetrotting can best be viewed as a sincere effort to resume the failed discussions. After a year of ironing-out the details, it would seem preposterous to waste all the time and effort, only to cancel a peace deal at the last minute. The terrorist group sees value in securing a deal that might finally bring an end to America’s longest war.