MOSCOW: Russia expected a new round of consultations on Afghanistan later this month with China and the US plus Pakistan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Russia’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
At the prospective meeting, Russia hoped to help the US and Taliban overcome the impasse in the wake of President Donald Trump cancelling talks at Camp David with the Taliban and the Afghan government earlier this month.
“We have been providing diplomatic assistance,” said Kabulov, pledging consultations with both sides as well as with the regional partners to reopen the talks. “Russia is stressing the need to continue the dialogue,” he added.
Kabulov said the Taliban have “certified their readiness to retake the place” at the negotiating table. “In addition, we count on holding consultations with our American partners in the nearest future and urge them to return to the dialogue,” he added.
“We also maintain contact with colleagues from other countries on the Afghan settlement, discussing the pause in the US-Taliban dialogue. In the same vein, we expect that we will be able to hold the next round of the Russia-China-US ‘troika’ meetings with the integration of Pakistan on the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly in New York.”
Kabulov stressed that there was no alternative to a political and diplomatic path to Afghan settlement and Moscow looked to a resumption of the talks between the US and Taliban with the signing of a peace accord as an outcome.
“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,” said Kabulov.
The diplomat stressed that “a new cycle of violence” leads to more civilian casualties, more suffering for the people of Afghanistan, and more refugees and destruction… therefore, we call on the parties to refrain from escalating hostilities and to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible”.
Another impact the current crisis has on Afghan political life is reviving the presidential elections set for September 28, as the US-Taliban deal had suggested forming an interim government with the movement’s representation, he said.
“The planned signing of a peace agreement between the US and the Taliban would have put the presidential elections on the back burner, as there was a possibility of their cancellation due to the formation of an interim government with the participation of the Taliban,” he said
“Now, with the negotiation process frozen, the issue of voting has become real again. Elections are scheduled for September 28 this year, and if there is no progress in the situation between the US and the Taliban movement before that, then, obviously, the vote will take place at the appointed time,” Kabulov said.
If this happens, Kabulov urged consideration of the lessons of the 2014 presidential elections and last year’s parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, during which he said “there were significant violations.” He said: “We count on the current vote to be held as openly and honestly as possible, so that its results will be credible for the people of Afghanistan.”
Lack of unified US position
The Russian envoy said it was likely that the US will use the halt in talks to push for more concessions from the Taliban, but he doubted the group would make any. “The months of work carried out by Zalmay Khalilzad [US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation] for the purpose of finding mutually acceptable terms of the agreement with the group deserve a high positive assessment, making any more concessions even less probable,” he said.
Responding to a question as to why Trump called off the peace talks, Kabulov believed the actual reason “probably lies in the absence of a unified position in Washington” on the issue of concluding an agreement with the Taliban.
He dismissed Trump’s pointing the finger at the Taliban for killing a US soldier. “Indeed, terrorist attacks by the Taliban took place before. We believe that the death of an American serviceman in the course of another terrorist act of the Taliban was only a pretext for the announcement by the US president of the termination of talks with the Afghan armed opposition.”
Nevertheless, Moscow hoped for a peaceful resolution of the current crisis and achieving peace in Afghanistan, first by finding a compromise between the US and the Taliban, and then by reaching a sustainable peace through all-embracing intra-Afghan talks.
After the talks were called off, Kabul blamed the Taliban and called for a ceasefire. The Taliban, in turn, declared their readiness both to continue fighting against the United States and the Afghan government and to return to the negotiating table with the Americans. Kabulov hoped that it was “this second scenario” that all parties would make efforts to implement.”