Although the Afghan issue has left the front pages of Russian and world newspapers for a while, processes around this long-suffering country are far from being halted. Geopolitical games on the Afghan track are gaining momentum instead. Events involving the status of the Taliban movement (banned in Russia), negotiations and the United States' future in Afghanistan are being actively discussed in global capitals. Six rounds of talks have already taken place between American, international and Afghan diplomats. Many of them were attended by the Taliban as representatives of the Afghan opposition.
However, despite all the efforts, there hasn't been much success. Of course, the very fact of a dialogue between the Taliban and Kabul, which has already occurred one way or another, is a good start after all. Certain understanding has been obviously reached between, say, America and Russia, Pakistan and Iran, India and China. All of the above is a previously unbelievable progress. The situation has got rolling, inroads are visible, with the seventh round of negotiations on the horizon.
The day before, important news came from America. A short while ago President Donald Trump announced another withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the American contingent reduction by another thousand people. The head of state expressed confidence that the current Afghan situation provides for proceeding with the pullout of troops, and that the military presence will be halved as compared to the beginning of his presidency. "As you know in Afghanistan, when I got there [to power], it was 16,000 people. It’s now 9,000 people. And some good things are happening there frankly," he said.
The statement sparked a massive public outcry in Afghanistan. In civic circles Trump's words have caused strong criticism, with a lot of people thinking America is surrendering Afghanistan. The intellectual class is often heard to be saying that the Americans are going to "give" Afghanistan away to the Taliban, the Pakistanis, the Chinese, the Russians or the Iranians. The Afghan society is an exclusively eastern one, with exaggeration, sophisticated and bright metaphors, and allegories being the order of the day. Many city dwellers do not want to negotiate with the Taliban. And the news on withdrawing another group of soldiers can hardly boost the United States' profile in their eyes. Broadly speaking, the image of the United States is lower than ever in Afghanistan for the time being. The Afghan public interprets America's moves as a weakness. Although often they are not.
Not so long ago, representatives of the radical movement claimed that the United States allegedly promised them to completely withdraw troops from Afghanistan and refrain from further interference in that country's domestic issues. Subsequently, the American side denied the statement, stressing that four interrelated issues are subject to discussion, one of which is the pullout of troops. And on this problem, according to American officials, agreements are still to be reached.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was not slow to provide feedback on the Taliban's words about the US troops withdrawal. "As we prepare for the next round of talks with the Taliban, important to remember we seek a comprehensive peace agreement, NOT a withdrawal agreement," Khalilzad tweeted. The diplomat reminded that along with the pullout, the draft agreement includes issues of counter-terrorism, intra-Afghan negotiations, and an ultimate ceasefire.
In short, each side keeps spinning its own vision of the peace process and is not intended to give in so far. At least at this stage the parties fail to demonstrate their willingness for mutual concessions. The time has not come yet. As a matter of fact, the Americans are ready to significantly limit their military presence in Afghanistan. But this requires strong guarantees from the Taliban. The latter, in turn, are only waiting for one thing – the withdrawal of troops, realizing at the same time that it is impossible to go back to 1994 and take control of the entire territory of Afghanistan.
There is another factor worth noticing which has recently begun to greatly disturb the Americans. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Due to the decline in bilateral relations and a real threat of war between the United States and Iran, the latter's policy on the Afghan track has begun to be of particular interest.
Earlier, Tehran has been involved in Afghan geopolitics as well. However, changes in the geopolitical environment forced Iran to pursue an even more active Afghan policy. There were two factors of this kind: the conflict with the United States and the beginning of negotiations with the Taliban in 2018.