Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation and, perhaps, the best-known Afghan in the West, arrived in Moscow on December 7 to meet with Igor Morgulov, deputy foreign minister in charge of Asian affairs, and Zamir Kabulov, a special envoy of the Russian president.
“At the meetings, the current situation in Afghanistan was discussed, together with prospects of establishing Russian-American interaction as part of international efforts to facilitate the launch of a direct dialog between the opposing Afghan parties,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a report, providing no further detail.
Khalilzad, in his turn, issued the following statement, “Afghans must ultimately determine their own future rather than have one dictated by outside powers. Both the United States and Russia would benefit from a political settlement in Afghanistan.” It should be noted that the Afghan government is extremely jealous of the US peace efforts that do not directly involve Kabul. To add weight to this work, the US Department of State earlier announced that “Special Representative Khalilzad will be in communication with President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, and other Afghan stakeholders to coordinate closely on efforts to bring the Taliban [an organization prohibited in Russia] to the negotiating table with the Afghan government and other Afghans.”
Khalilzad came to Russia as part of his tour of countries that have an influence on Afghanistan’s politics. Overall, it is an attempt to get regional powers involved in the Afghanistan peace efforts. Russia was the third country to be visited in December after Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now Khalilzad plans to visit Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Belgium, the UAE and Qatar. The trip is scheduled to end on December 20.
What is the meaning of the visit of the American diplomat that has virtually monopolized the Afghan peace process? Are we witnessing the commencement of full-scale cooperation between Moscow and Washington in Afghanistan?
Alexander Mantytsky, Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan, said yesterday that Moscow and Washington had similar views on conflict resolution in Afghanistan and expressed hope that this accord would result in joint action. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also indirectly acknowledged shifts in the US policy, by saying that America was willing to work with all parties interested in maintaining peace in Afghanistan.
For quite a long time, the US ignored Moscow’s interests in the Middle East, and Afghanistan was no exception. On the contrary, one of the region’s most important countries was a perfect example of Washington’s attempted projection of the long gone unipolar world on one individual country. America did not listen to anyone and didn’t want to.
But simple ignoring was not enough. Moscow was accused of destabilizing the situation and supporting the Taliban. High-ranking US military men spoke about Russia supplying weapons and crude oil to the movement.
This didn’t last long, though. At the beginning of the year, the official Kabul, supported by the United States, launched the long-awaited and large-scale settlement process. Tired of the longest war in its history and realizing that a military victory in Afghanistan was unattainable, America decided to organize talks between the country’s authorities and the Taliban. But the process turned out to be impossible without involvement of influential regional and global powers, which, obviously, includes Russia.
Moscow has a vast experience of participation in Afghanistan’s politics and is situated in direct proximity to the country. Moreover, Russia has long and trusting relations with many Afghan political parties, including Tajik ones. Hazara parties do not fall behind, and their leaders can frequently be seen in Moscow. The same is true about Uzbek politicians. Pashtuns are also not in the habit of ignoring Russia. For example, one of Afghanistan’s most influential politicians, former head of the National Security Council Mohammad Hanif Atmar speaks Russian and advocates his country’s participation in the Moscow consultations. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai is also a proponent of close relations with Russia.
Therefore, the US won’t get anywhere if it continues ignoring Moscow. If it wants to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan (and it does), it obviously needs to get all stakeholders involved. In this context, frequent phone talks between Russian and US diplomats on Afghanistan are important, as they help to harmonize the parties’ positions and reach an understanding. And Khalilzad’s visit to Moscow is an event that confirmed all of the above points.