Bringing the Taliban to Moscow: Constructive Move or Waste of Time?

Russia, along with the other powers involved with the conflict have to influence the Taliban to change its overall ideology derived from religious-based extremism and the group’s reliance on terrorism and violence. The Taliban cannot be left to rule Afghanistan, they cannot be left to control parts of Afghanistan. If the Taliban wish to enter into the political space on the future of Afghanistan they need to give up their extremist views and ways, as well as their terrorist tactics – these cannot be negotiable.

The recently convened meeting in Moscow on Afghanistan was noteworthy for the presence of a representative from the Taliban. This the second meeting sponsored by Russia for addressing a peace settlement for Afghanistan. Reportedly up to twelve other states attended the latest meeting at varying levels of representation and participation. The meeting is significant for placing representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government in the same room. But the question worth asking is – should the Taliban be in the room at all?

The Taliban are a designated as a terrorist organisation for Russia from 2015. Bringing a designated terrorist organisation to your territory for discussions about peaceful settlements of disputes gives many wrong signals and the impression that terrorism pays dividends. But even if we overlook its terrorist actions, which we should not, is it right to invite a single armed non-state actor that does not control large sections of territory to discussion about the peaceful settlement of a dispute? This question is a bit more difficult and one that is prevalent in many conflicts around the world right now – should armed non-state actors be able to be part of negotiations when it is clear that they have no substantial interest in a substantive peace to end the conflict?

Russia’s Diplomatic Involvement in Afghanistan
While Russia’s decision to invite the Taliban to a multilateral forum raised eyebrows, as Moscow has officially designated the Taliban as a terrorist group, it reflects contemporary geopolitical realities in Afghanistan.
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How do we deal with armed non-state actors in achieving peaceful resolution of conflicts? We should add to this question how do we talk peace with groups like the Taliban that possess a fundamentalist ideology based on the politicisation of religion? Why should a group that controls a small amount of territory, whose backing from society appears to be limited, and one whose agenda is abhorrent to most, have a seat in any negotiations about peace? Armed non-state actors appear to have little interest in ending conflict. There are few incentives to end their campaigns of violence and resort to constructive behaviour in support of peace and security. Provided there is some maintenance of local support, even if just at the village level, or when the group is supported by eternal actors, these armed non-state actors will persist in rejecting peace. These armed non-state actors have no interest in peace but if they continue to operate they will remain an obstacle to peace.

After almost 18 years of the current external intervention in Afghanistan peace is distant on the horizon. The central government of Afghanistan struggles to exercise authority or control over much of the territory and the foreign forces there are not making much of an impact on the security situation if we look at attacks on society in recent months. The Taliban are not the only ones responsible for the ongoing terrorist violence and insecurity, but they are one of the primary causes. The Taliban says it has a right to form a government consistent with the beliefs of their people. But this is the problem, the Taliban, it appears, want to rule all of Afghanistan and there is no clear evidence all of Afghanistan believes in their extremist ideology. Equally the Taliban are showing signs of pragmatic realism and appear to be willing to talk about peace.

So why should we talk to with them? Russia’s invitation to the Taliban is, it appears, is also based on pragmatic realism. The Taliban can continue to foment insecurity, so let’s see if we can move them to behaviour that is more conducive to security. The US, the Taliban’s arch nemesis, is also examining direct talks with the group.

Russia’s efforts to get the Taliban in the room appear on the face of it to be useful and hopefully constructive. But Russia, along with the other powers involved with the conflict have to influence the Taliban to change its overall ideology derived from religious-based extremism and the group’s reliance on terrorism and violence. The Taliban cannot be left to rule Afghanistan, they cannot be left to control parts of Afghanistan. If the Taliban wish to enter into the political space on the future of Afghanistan they need to give up their extremist views and ways, as well as their terrorist tactics – these cannot be negotiable. Would Russia or any other great power give a seat at the table to a terrorist insurgency in their own territory? Highly unlikely.

The Taliban has said they will only negotiate with the USA, not the Afghan government or with any other actors. If Russia can facilitate some sort of negotiations between the Taliban and the US and with the Afghan government that would be a highly constructive move toward global peace and security on many levels. The Taliban are not the only example of armed non-state actors who use terrorism and are intractable in their demands. But if Russia can get the Taliban to start entertaining peace as a viable alternative to violence, then this may prove a useful example for many of the other conflicts in the world today. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.