Talks between the US, China, Russia, and Pakistan are ongoing in Doha this week as the group, known as Troika plus, attempt to reach an agreement to cease the bloodshed in Afghanistan.
After two decades of war, fighting between government and Taliban forces has been increasing over recent months, putting the lives of thousands of Afghans at risk.
The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier in the year left the country in turmoil. In the last week alone, Taliban forces have captured at least ten key cities and look poised to enter Kabul.
Reuters and The Washington Post report that a US intelligence source stated that the Taliban could isolate Kabul in 30 days and the capital could fall within 90, much sooner than originally thought.
Troika plus (also referred to as the “extended Troika”) has the objective, according to the US Department of State, of “work[ing] with all parties and with regional and international stakeholders to advance a consensus on a political settlement.” It’s an unusual, but a potentially very effective, alliance. Each state has its own relationship with the Taliban and Ashraf Ghani’s government, and so the ability to forge an intra-Afghan peace deal is certainly there.
The US, with its two-decades-long military presence in Afghanistan, represents the most complex character in Doha. The war which started weeks after the 11 September attacks has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and many more injured.
As the Taliban make ground throughout across the country and it becomes certain that the group will be, at least in the medium-term, a permanent feature, Joe Biden’s objective will be to contain Taliban advances, but perhaps more importantly, to limit domestic fall-out between Democrat voters on the left and right of the party who see the speedy withdrawal as either the best way for Afghans to find self-rule or as an abandonment of a people the US has occupied for 20 years.
Russia and China both seem to feel threatened from potential attacks coming from Afghanistan’s northern border. This week, Russian, Tajik, and Uzbek military forces concluded drills aimed at preparing for militants moving into Central Asian states.
China has a military base on the Tajik side of the Afghan-Tajik border, although it’s been reported that China sought to assure Russian officials that the base was for training and logistical purposes, rather than an attempt by Beijing to move into a traditionally Russian area of influence.
Diplomatically, however, China has been working hard to bridge alliances with both the Taliban and the Afghan government. In July, the red carpet was rolled out in Beijing for high-ranking Taliban officials, including the co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
They took part in talks with senior Chinese officials, including the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. As the journalist Yun Sun has written, “China has the capacity to play a bigger role in the country economically, but a willingness to do so will only emerge when there are signs of sustainable stability.”
Sultan Baheen, former Afghan ambassador to China, said in a recent interview that he expected further talks between world powers. "They should echo the voice of Afghanistan that war is not the solution and support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Time is crucial for Afghanistan," Baheen told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Amongst all of the chatter, what do Afghans want for their own country and how do they want the state to run? This a question which slews of opinion polls have attempted to answer. Recent polling by a US-based charity suggests that support for the Taliban across the country has dropped from around half of Afghans to 13.4% over the last ten years.
The fact that the poll was carried out by a US group, however, gives strong cause to doubt the veracity of such data.
“The Taliban and the Afghan government hate each other and they’re not for a political solution but they can be coerced into one,” Torek Farhadi, an analyst at the Geneva International Trade Centre, told Al Bawaba. “The United Nations, the US, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, which is concerned that Afghanistan doesn’t become a chaotic land of extremism either, all have to find the middle-ground and organise a conference so the UN can get a team of technocrats to run the country and prepare for elections in two to three years.”
“The Taliban have to accept, otherwise sanctions should return because it would show they’re not looking for a peaceful solution. Ghani has to accept because he has been given enough chances in the last seven years to get his act together, but he can’t. He said he can defend the country but he is like a gambler who keeps losing money and he says ‘just let me play another turn, I will win the next one.’ But in the middle of this people are dying, so Ghani has to step aside.”
The Troika Plus meeting on Afghanistan in Doha ended today.— Shahid Khan (@Shahid_Khan_Blo) August 11, 2021
Pakistan's Special Representative for Afghanistan @AmbassadorSadiq, who was accompanied by Pakistan's Ambassador to Kabul @ambmansoorkhan and other officials, represented Pakistan at the meeting.
Fighting across the country has intensified. Street fighting, including in major centers like Kunduz and Lashkar Gah, has seen the Taliban make major territorial gains. The cost of war on civilians is increasing. In the first ten days of August, the International Committee of the Red Cross says it treated 4,042 patients in ICRC-supported facilities.
"We are seeing homes destroyed, medical staff and patients put at tremendous risk, and hospitals, electricity and water infrastructure damaged," Eloi Fillion, ICRC's head of delegation in Afghanistan, said in a statement. "The use of explosive weaponry in cities is having an indiscriminate impact on the population. Many families have no option but to flee in search of a safer place. This must stop."
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