Since the invasion of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2001, the country has witnessed a constant war between the U.S backed Afghan forces and the Taliban. In an attempt to settle the 17-year old conflict, Russia, in August 2018, send out an invitation to the leaders of Taliban and several concerning countries to attend a peace summit in Moscow. While the Afghan and U.S. government has declined their attendance, the Taliban, in a diplomatic twist, has agreed to send its emissaries to attend the talk.
In 1994, the Taliban emerged as one of the prominent factions of the Afghan Civil War. Its members primarily consisted of traditional Sunni Islam’s who had previously fought during the Soviet-Afghan war, ranging from 1979-1989. In 1996, under the leadership of Mohammad Omar, they established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Occupying nearly three-quarters of the country, they declared the recently occupied Kandahar as their capital. Over the years, their harsh interpretation of the Sharia Law ensued the brutal treatment of many Afghans, primarily women. They not only burned tens of thousands of residences and vast areas of fertile land, but also denied UN food supplies to millions of homeless and starving civilians.
Following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the United States deployed its military forces in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. The following decade-and-a-half witnessed the resurgence of mayhem in the country, as several Afghans, Taliban troopers and U.S. military were regularly killed.
Russia’s invitation, which is scheduled to be held on 4th September in Moscow, is seen as a diplomatic effort to help put an end to the current unrest in Afghanistan. In response to the invitation, Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents have confirmed that they would, indeed, attend the summit. Taliban Spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said, “Our leaders have accepted Russia’s invitation to participate in Russia-led peace talks.” The Taliban delegation will be led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the group’s political office in Doha, Qatar, and will be accompanied by four other senior Taliban members.
The news of the Taliban’s affirmation has also been confirmed by Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government has declined to attend the summit. Instead, they hope to “hold direct talks” with the Taliban without the direct involvement of foreign powers. The declination came after Taliban leaders failed to honor a request by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The request offered a three-month-long ceasefire in the country. The United States, too, declined to attend the summit.
Both the U.S. and Afghanistan have accused Russia of financing the Taliban regime, through the supply of arms and equipment. Abdul Qayyum Kochai, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Russia, have publicly accused Russia of planning to use Taliban against ISIS in Syria. The accusation was quickly brushed off by Lavrov, who stated the act would be extremely “hypocritical”.
So why, exactly, is Russia interested in facilitating peace in one of the most war-stricken zones in the world? According to a western diplomat, it might be a result of Russia’s effort to improve its image and increase its influence in Afghanistan. Indeed, the rise of fundamentalist Islamic groups in the Middle-East could be traced back 40 years, when Moscow send its troops to Afghanistan, which started the Soviet-Afghan War.
It’s still unclear how the talk would proceed without the presence of Afghan and U.S. leaders, who have condemned Russia’s outreach as belittling their own diplomatic talks with the Taliban.