Russia-China-Pakistan trilateral meeting on the situation in Afghanistan was held in Moscow last week. Although the meeting was regarding Afghanistan but neither the Afghan government was consulted while convening this meeting nor was it invited to participate in it.
The Moscow meeting sparked harsh reactions inside the country. The spokesperson of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concern about this meeting and said that it would raise many questions. The lawmakers in Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of the Afghan Parliament) have said that holding meetings about Afghanistan without this country’s participation is “meddling in Afghanistan’s internal affairs”. The Commander of Resolute Support Mission and the US forces Gen. Nicholson has also criticized Russia for holding this meeting and has said that Russia’s close ties with the Taliban is not helping the situation.
Although, after this meeting, Russia, China and Pakistan have said that they would include other countries, such as Iran and Afghanistan, in this process, but the issue that can surprise the Afghan President is that the three countries have reached a consensus to delist some members of the Taliban from the UN sanction lists.
The recent regional geo-politics, the probability of division of the region into two blocks, and the impacts of the Russia-China-Pakistan trilateral meeting on Afghanistan are issues that are analyzed here.
Changing regional scenario
South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East are the regions that are moving toward change since 2011 and situation in these regions, either directly or indirectly, influences the events in Afghanistan.
In the Middle East, Arab Spring altered to Arab fall; civilian war erupted after uprisings in Syria and now is under world focus. A democratic state was overthrew in Egypt by a coup d’état, in the aftermath of US forces’ withdrawal from Iraq, ISIL emerged in this country and expanded even to Afghanistan. The moderate Rouhani won Presidential Elections in Iran and finally settled nuclear issue with the United States, which resulted in lifting international sanctions on Iran.
In South Asia, relations between Afghanistan, India and Pakistan are complicated, and relations in this triangle have experienced many ups and downs since the recent two years. After Narrendra Modi seized power in India, Indian foreign policy was activated and mostly followed the policy of marginalizing Pakistan and establishing close ties with the United States. On the other hand, Pakistani military carried out “Zarb-e-Azb” operation to suppress anti-Pakistani militants and also took the control of Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan and India while differences were apparent between civil and military government.
Withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan began and currently, according to official statistics, there are 10 thousand US troops in this country. After the deteriorated relations of the Karzai’s government with the United States, the new Afghan government tried to improve these relations as well as relations with regional countries.
With Xi Jinping coming to power in China, Beijing is inclined towards the West and, therefore, has put efforts to build the “New Silk Road” or as they call it “One Belt, One Road”. China also invested $46bn in “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)”; but in the meanwhile due to the issue of South China Sea, the US-China relations were deteriorated.
The new great game between the two regional blocks
If one studies the geo-politics of the region in recent two years, one will find out that, as during the Cold War, once again, the region is divided into two blocks; but the difference is that, unlike during the cold war when blocks were formed on the bases of ideology, now these blocks are driven from regional situation and varying interests of the countries.
The first block: India-Afghanistan-the United States:
India, Afghanistan and the United States are included in the first block. After the formation of the NUG, compared to the second term of Karzai’s government, Afghanistan established better relations with the United States. With the signature of the BSA with the US, this country’s fate in Afghanistan was cleared. The Afghan government allowed the US forces to carry out night raids and did not react in response to civilian casualties caused by US troops. In exchange, the United States promised aids to Afghanistan in Brussels and Warsaw Conferences. On the other hand, during the first year of its formation, the NUG did not have close relations with India, but when it was disappointed from Pakistan, it improved its relation with India.
India gave Attack Helicopters to Afghanistan and pledged $1bn in aid to this country. The Afghan government also decided to purchase heavy weapons from India, and India gave it the green light.
On the other hand, after Modi coming to power in India, India-US relations improved. Modi had four trips to the United States up until now; in 2016, Barack Obama also traveled to India and in the same year the US Secretary of Defense and Indian Minister of Defense have had six meetings, the signature of Military Logistics Agreement in these meetings are noteworthy, which paved the way for the two countries to utilize each other’s airports in times of need.
Second block: Russia-China-Pakistan:
Russia, China and Pakistan are included in the second block. China and Pakistan have always enjoyed warm relations. Chinese President’s visit to Pakistan in 2015 and inauguration of CPEC further tied the two countries together. Moreover, relations between Pakistan and Russia are also improving. Russia might invest $2bn in the North-South gas pipeline of Pakistan; this country might also enter into CPEC and might start military exercises with Pakistan as well. Besides that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, China and Russia are strategic partners and currently their interests are more coordinated than the United States. For instance, their interests in the Middle East and their stance against the United States’ presence in the region and etc.
Evaluation of the two blocks
India has tenuous relations with both China and Pakistan. In his swearing in ceremony, Modi had invited the South Asian leaders, including Nawaz Sharif and the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but still, due to terrorism and Kashmir case, Delhi-Islamabad ties remain tenuous. After the Pathankot and Uri attacks, India seeks to isolate Pakistan. In addition, due to China’s stance against India’s membership in Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and China’s defiance from Jaish-e-Mohammad’s chief Masood Azhar, tensions had escalated in Delhi-Beijing relations. Later-on, India invited Tibet’s religious leaders to India, which China strongly condemned.
On the other hand, tensions in US-Russia and US-China relations are rising as well. United States have some differences with China in terms of Yuan’s value, the US is against the China’s Stance regarding the South China Sea and has deepened relations with the rivals of China in the region- Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and etc. The United States’ relation with Russia is also now deteriorated capered to in 2001-2009. The two countries are involved in an undeclared cold war in Syria, Ukraine and now in Afghanistan.
It is the first time that Russia and Iran pursue a different strategy with that of India in Afghanistan. Before then, these three countries pursued almost similar strategies in Afghanistan, but Russian and Iran’s close ties with the Taliban put an end to this behavior.
The regions is moving towards division between these two blocks; but the Kabul-Beijing, Moscow-Delhi and Washington-Islamabad relations are the obstacles against the formation of these blocks and deterioration of above mentioned relations would decide the fate of these blocks.
The impacts of the Moscow trilateral meeting on Afghanistan
Although, Russia, China and Pakistan have held two other such meetings before this but this time this meeting was rather focused on the situation in Afghanistan. In this meeting the three countries expressed concerns over ISIL’s expansion in Afghanistan and also reached a consensus to remove the names of some Taliban members from the UN black list, in order to assist in the Afghan peace process. But this decision is definitely in contradiction with the Afghan President’s remarks two months ago, when he demanded from the United Nations to include Mullah Hibatullah’s name in its black list.
Holding such meetings without consultation with Afghanistan and without participation of Afghan representatives/delegations means intervention in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Additionally, demanding the removal of the Taliban’s name from UN’s black list would draw them further closer to regional countries.
As to why Afghanistan faced such a situation that Russia, China and Pakistan hold such meetings and countries like Russia and China, which have the Vito right in the Security Council of the UN, have the same stances about the removal of the Taliban’s name from the UN black list, the followings are the reasons behind it:
- Regional geo-political situation; geo-political situation in the region, which we described above have brought these three countries together.
- Improper policies of the Afghan government; another factor behind the current situation is the Afghan government’s policies, which on the one hand did not maintain balance between the two rival countries and on the other hand did not take any initiative to start direct talks with the Taliban.
- Taliban’s active diplomacy; the active diplomacy of the Taliban convinced countries like China, Russia and Iran that the Taliban’s ideology is confined inside the borders of Afghanistan and that they could be better ally against ISIL than the Afghan government.
Through maintaining neutrality and face to face talk with the Taliban, the Afghan government can prevent most of the interventions of the second block; otherwise, the ongoing situation would make the Afghan war further complicated, prolonged and bloodied.