Russia will host the second round of the Moscow peace conference on Afghanistan this month, which its Foreign Ministry bills as the first direct high-level talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.
The importance that Russia attaches to the second session of the Moscow conference on Afghanistan on Nov. 9 is evident from the fact that the event, which will be held at the level of deputy foreign ministers, will be opened by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was not present at similar meetings on Syria, even during that country’s most difficult periods.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry sent invitations to representatives of 11 countries -- Afghanistan, the U.S., India, Iran, China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The Afghan government has already confirmed that a delegation from the country’s High Peace Council will be attending, while the Taliban also said it would send representatives to Moscow.
“A high-ranking delegation of the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Taliban] will take part in the conference… It is a conference about holding comprehensive discussions on finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary and ending American occupation. The Islamic Emirate will also give a detailed speech and clarify its views and policy about all aspects of the issue, including restoring peace and security,” the Taliban said in a statement.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also announced his intention to attend the conference because “any possibility of peace talks with the Taliban should not be ignored”.
Atta Muhammad Nur, the former governor of Balkh province, is also expected to attend.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, all the invited countries but one -- the U.S. -- confirmed their participation. The U.S. State Department earlier explained its refusal due to “the absence of significant results of the first meeting in Moscow regarding the Afghan peace process”.
But Russian diplomats say off-record that the U.S. will be indirectly involved and informed.
"The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mr. [Ashraf] Ghani, decided to send a delegation of the country's High Peace Council to the meeting. For the first time, a delegation from the Taliban's Political Office in Doha will participate in an international meeting of this level," the statement read.
"The Russian side reaffirms the position that there is no alternative to a political settlement in Afghanistan and that there is a need for active coordinated work by Afghanistan's neighbouring countries and regional partners in this area," it added.
Although each of the countries invited to the conference is deeply involved in the Afghan conflict, their role at the conference is to legitimize the process of the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Omar Nessar, director of the Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies, told Anadolu Agency.
One of the main issues that Nessar expects the Taliban to discuss with the Afghan government at the conference is the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country, primarily American forces.
"At first glance, it seems that this is an unsolvable task. On the other hand, the attitude towards the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is changing even for those who supported it. American troops are in Afghanistan under the security agreement. However, after 17 years in the country, the U.S. has not fulfilled any of its obligations under it. Why are they there then?” Nessar said.
He dismissed expectations of an immediate coup d’état following the departure of the U.S. military.
"There is a common stereotype that the Afghan government will not last a day without the U.S. troops. But it is in the case if the Taliban take action. But who says it will? We must remember that the Taliban will not last long without external support as well. And if the supporters of the two sides agree to avoid immediate war, with this starting point, we can work” on a solution, he said.
If the U.S. categorically rejects the withdrawal of its troops, it could maintain its military presence in the country, but under other conditions. The U.S. could rent military bases from Afghanistan. This option would be more honest, Nessar said.
The withdrawal of foreign troops from the country must be accompanied by economic support, Alexey Muraviev, the head of the School of Asian Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, told Anadolu Agency.
"At the moment, the production of drugs is the base of the country’s shadow economy. If thinking sincerely about the peace process, it is necessary to decide what to replace it with,” he said.
Economic powerhouse China could become one of Afghanistan’s major economic supporters, which is in line with the country’s policy of primarily pursuing commercial interests, he said.
"The difficulties of the Chinese in the country are associated with a lack of understanding of the Afghan specifics and a lack of attention to the cultural component," he said.
Finally, it is necessary to stop imposing leaders on the country. There should be a national leader acceptable to all segments of the population, said political expert Denis Korkodinov.
"Afghanistan needs a leader who grew up, learnt and worked in Afghanistan, who knows the land, and not another Soviet or American or protégé of any other country. Only a person who comes from Afghanistan can understand why people support the Taliban, what makes people look for support from radicals instead of trying to build a society that will strive for social equality and justice," he said.
Korkodinov recalled that from the 19th century, all Afghan leaders have been protégés of foreign powers.
In India, it would be the same if Mahatma Gandhi had not appeared, who was acceptable for everyone, he said.
"But people like Mahatma Gandhi are quite rare. India is lucky. Pakistan is less fortunate. Afghanistan is a failure in this sense. It is a very multi-ethnic and multicultural region where it has always been difficult to find a balance. So now it is difficult to imagine that a national leader acceptable for everyone will appear and unite the country. But at least we have to try to find him. It is necessary to work in this direction anyway,” he said.