A Taliban delegation holds a press conference after a meeting with Zamir Kabulov. PHOTO: AFP

How Russia’s special Afghan envoy wants to save the struggling peace process

Russia has a tangible incentive to see its diplomatic initiatives in Afghanistan succeed

Andrew Korybko February 19, 2021

Russian Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov gave an exclusive interview to publicly financed Sputnik about his plan to save the country’s struggling peace process. He was quoted as condemning the US for unilaterally violating the deal that it agreed to last year with the Taliban, which he said was strictly adhering to the accord. Kabulov also proposed the creation of an inclusive transitional coalition government after the Taliban’s official political status is determined. Another highlight from his interview is that he suggested that the Russian capital might soon host another round of talks based on the Moscow format of his country, the Afghan stakeholders, the US, and neighbouring states. His comments coincided with NATO discussing the US’ plans to delay its originally promised withdrawal of troops by May and the visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla to Moscow where the diplomat talked about Afghanistan among other topics of shared interest.

Although Russia officially designated the Taliban as a terrorist organisation, this hasn’t precluded the country from pragmatically engaging with the group on a political basis in order to incorporate it into the peace process. To this end, Moscow even hosted the Taliban on several occasions. These events were extremely symbolic considering the fact that the Taliban grew out of the 1980s Mujahidin movement that was formed to fight against the Soviet military during Moscow’s ultimately disastrous intervention there during the last decade of the Old Cold War. This proves just how much Russia’s geostrategic calculus has changed in the years since. Instead of aspiring to regain its lost superpower status, Moscow’s 21st-century grand strategic ambition is to become the supreme “balancing” force in Eurasia, which explains its recent cooperation with a slew of non-traditional partners such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan.

It was the last-mentioned of these four which presumably facilitated Russia’s initial interactions with the Taliban considering its historic relations with the group. That was among the first and most regionally influential outcomes yet of their rapid rapprochement with one another. Russia is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in the Afghan peace process because it’s truly a neutral actor in the conflict. In addition, its pragmatic political relations with the Taliban in spite of their historic discord with one another speaks to just how trusted of an actor Moscow has become for all sides. This confirms the success of Russia’s “balancing” act in Afghanistan and the larger Central-South Asian region that this geostrategic state sits smack dab in the middle of. Keeping in mind the continental implications of the country’s peace process, it can therefore be said that Russia is nowadays playing an important diplomatic role in resolving a conflict that impacts all of Eurasia.

Other than the prestige that success on this front would afford it, Russia is also interested in seeing this outcome because it would enable the country to advance President Putin’s vision of an Arctic-Indian Ocean corridor that he first shared during his speech at the Valdai Club’s annual meeting in October 2019. The Russian President said that “There is one more prospective route, the Arctic – Siberia – Asia. The idea is to connect ports along the Northern Sea Route with ports of the Pacific and Indian oceans via roads in East Siberia and central Eurasia” when elaborating on an important dimension of his country’s “Greater Eurasian Partnership”. Pakistan’s unofficial N-CPEC+ plan to extend CPEC northwards through Afghanistan to the Central Asian Republics and ultimately Russia perfectly dovetails with President Putin’s southern-directed vision to establish an Arctic-Indian Ocean corridor.

The success of this mutually beneficial proposal depends on ensuring the security of the RuPak Corridor, which only the Taliban can provide since it’s the most powerful fighting force in Afghanistan. The official determination of the group’s political status and prospective inclusion in a transitional coalition government would therefore go a long way towards achieving this goal and eventually attracting more international investment into the project from other interested partners. This means that Russia has a tangible incentive to see its diplomatic initiatives in Afghanistan succeed since this outcome would result in securing one of its envisioned axes of North-South Eurasian connectivity which forms a crucial pillar of its “Greater Eurasian Partnership”. Kabulov will therefore do everything that he can to bring this about, hence his increasingly active role in trying to save the struggling Afghan peace process.

Andrew Korybko

The writer is an American Moscow-based political analyst specialising in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He tweets at @AKorybko

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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