As the Russia China Pakistan led initiative on Afghanistan takes off tomorrow at Moscow with its third session, the war in Afghanistan is well in its 16th year, with hardly any visible optimism about the fate of this unfortunate country. The most mighty military organization on the surface of earth led by the sole super power equipped to the teeth with the most sophisticated armory that one can fathom looks humbled against the most poorly armed outfit, but exceptionally motivated and determined struggling to contest their country`s occupation.
Post 9/11 US led NATO's occupation while Al-Qaeda almost reduced to non-existence, the US raison d`etre of staying in Afghanistan stands on a morally weak pedestal. The Afghan Taliban have on numerous occasions spelt out clearly that it does not harbor any trans national agenda and are only struggling to rid their country of the unjust foreign occupation with a legitimate desire to run their country in accordance with the genuine aspirations of the Afghan people.
While US led NATO continued to engage the Taliban militarily, various efforts on the politico diplomatic fronts continued side by side cajoling, arm twisting, incentivizing and threatening the stakeholders for joining the negotiation process. These efforts beginning with the Bonn series in 2001, 2011 (Bonn 1 and 2) were supplemented and complemented by other such initiatives, like the Saudi initiative in 2008/2009, Afghan government versus Hizb-e-Islami Gulbadin group`s engagement beginning in 2008, the Maldives series meetings in 2010, the German sponsored Qatar initiative in 2010, and the US backed NATO initiative in which engaging with moderate Taliban was sanctioned by the Obama administration side by side reinforcing the military component for a surge to eliminate the Taliban leadership forcing them to come to the negotiating table. Unfortunately none of these efforts could achieve the desired results due to some fundamental differences like the status of Afghan constitution/government, withdrawal of occupation forces and conflicting interests of regional and extra regional players in Afghanistan.
With ISIS/Daesh physically appearing in Afghanistan`s adjoining provinces with Pakistan and its effective terrorist attacks within Afghanistan and Pakistan, the regional and neighboring countries including Russia and China can clearly assess the magnitude and potential of the looming threat transiting into their territories in a visibly short span of time, given the fragility of the Afghan government. In order to put a brake to the increasing politico economic ingress of both Russia and China into the region and having failed itself to stabilize Afghanistan, the US is suspected of injecting ISIS into this region for subsequent exploitation of Russian and Chinese vulnerabilities in Chechnya and Sinkiang respectively. To stall this new suspected US game plan Russia, China and Pakistan initiated, a trilateral process to explore possibilities for settling the Afghan imbroglio. Vehemently opposed by the US, NATO, Afghanistan and India for not having been consulted or invited, the process is heading for its third meeting at Moscow, with India, Iran and Afghanistan joining, while US stays away on the pretext of not having been consulted about its motives and agenda. Apparently, the Moscow led initiative enjoys greater confidence and appeal among the stakeholders including Afghanistan on account of following reasons.
One, sensing the physical threat of ISIS expanding to their soft underbellies both Russia and China are sincerely committed to lasting peace in Afghanistan. Two, as against US/West, these regional players are well conversant with the prevailing environment, hence are well taken by regional stakeholders. Three, with Central Asia`s most energy resources untapped and China aggressively committed to Afghanistan and the region economically, its interests in a peaceful Afghanistan are greater than any near and distant power. Four, both Russia and China would wish to see a reduction in the US presence and influence in the region given their own long term politico economic interests. Five, with poppy cultivation on the rise in Afghanistan during US occupation, Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Central Asian Republics consider their population badly impacted by the menace besides their countries used as conduits for smuggling into Europe. Six, the optimism displayed by the Afghan delegates after the previous session increases the hope for a positive outcome. Seven, by positively engaging Taliban and visibly addressing their genuine concerns, the major stakeholders are developing greater mutual confidence and seriousness towards a lasting settlement.
Besides facing serious setbacks militarily in Afghanistan, the US led diplomacy also consistently failed in reaching at a political and negotiated solution mainly for want of sincerity and credibility with the regional stake holders. It has now clearly dawned on the regional stakeholders that the key to the lasting solution lies with them and not the extra regional players. The China-Russia-Pakistan initiative is hence seen as a fresh ray of hope on the horizon. The US and its allies would do a great service to the international community in general and this region in particular if it puts its weight behind this new initiative. A positive approach will truly prove to be in line with US desire for attaining genuine respect worthy of its power and international stature.