Without a futuristic vision, established and managed both internally and especially between relevant institutions, it is a reality that inbuilt tensions between the Afghan government and Taliban can only be reduced if political disagreements between the US/NATO and Taliban end in an acceptable timeline and with a realistic withdrawal plan.
Moscow vs Washington
The regional countries have genuine concerns on instability in Afghanistan. The Moscow peace process has been successful in yielding positive results especially where the US has faced remarkable difficulties in materializing its own peace parleys. In addition, it is increasingly understood that the US and allies’ approach to creating an effective and sustainable peace plan has been beset by number of contradictions. The analysis especially points out the incompatibilities between 1) excluding regional cooperation and the US withdrawal plan and 2) external considerations for a sovereign Afghanistan, that is, the transition to a post-withdrawal Afghanistan that will have “strong US and NATO footprints”. Therefore, the risk is that the plan of an Afghan-led-and-Afghan-owned peace may fall in an instability quagmire.
Similarly, the international efforts against war on IS (Da’aesh) in Afghanistan has largely failed. As a result, the warlords and other armed groups have no interest in supporting the peace efforts. The Taliban on the other hand, seek a clear withdrawal timeframe and a political arrangement, under which they are being legitimately included into the government. The distinction between Moscow’s and Washington’s peace efforts is that the former is applying an integrated regional approach, with the aim to bring together all stakeholders and Afghan ownership.
Based on all the US backed peace talks, it is assessed that without a genuine regional cooperation, the current situation can lead Afghanistan to further fragility and instability. All that has been achieved in the service of establishing a democratic and modern Afghan government may disappear if President Ashraf Ghani’s government does not comprehend the dangerous impact of IS and related terrorist outfits in Afghanistan. This reflection flows from the contradictory decision-making processes between the US Pentagon and the State Department.
Russia and Pakistan
Russia and Pakistan, as well as neighbouring Iran maintain channels of communication with the Taliban, arguing that they intend on encouraging the Taliban to stabilize Afghanistan through a peaceful dialogue. However, the single most important factor that is further fragmenting peace in Afghanistan, is the impeding danger of IS, known as Khorasan Province (ISK-P) and its regional affiliate, and thus threatening territorial boundaries of the neighbouring countries.
The ensuing analysis of previous peace processes reflects that it is possible to establish meaningful cooperation between both countries if the political process in Afghanistan is supported by an integrated approach and further, if they learn from the successes of Pakistan’s counterterrorism campaign. Russia and Pakistan have already conducted joint military drills to enhance counterterrorism cooperation to terminate the growing threat of IS, emanating from Afghanistan. The joint military exercises are named as “Druzhba” (Friendship).
It is assessed that IS has fully entrenched and is using volatile Afghan regions bordering with Central Asian countries to threaten Russian regional security interests. Since 2014, the improved relations between Russia and Pakistan have resulted in a strengthened security partnership, and further, when the two emerging friends signed their defence cooperation agreement. In August last year, Moscow concluded the most vital contract with Islamabad, i.e. for the first time for Russian military training of Pakistani army officers, a development that would directly impact the way the civil-military leadership of Russia and Pakistan strategizes its future peace efforts.
The Strategic Role of Civil-Military Leadership
When trying to comprehend the future of peace and challenges of a diplomatic balance in Afghanistan, it is insufficient to exclude the strategic role of the civil-military leadership of Russia and Pakistan. One must also include how an effort to a peaceful Afghanistan is coherently pursued. Without a futuristic vision, established and managed both internally and especially between relevant institutions, it is a reality that inbuilt tensions between the Afghan government and Taliban can only be reduced if political disagreements between the US/NATO and Taliban end in an acceptable timeline and with a realistic withdrawal plan. Additionally, the contradictory decision making in the Pentagon and the State Department has largely widened the gap between its Afghan policy and the implementation design on the ground.
Regardless of new emerging relations between Russia and Pakistan, President Putin and PM Imran Khan’s interactive engagement during the annual conference (June 14) of Shanghai Cooperation (SCO) demonstrates significant improvement in dismissing previous administrative boundaries. While development in different areas of cooperation is widening, bringing together civil-military efforts to establish peace in Afghanistan is largely off a strong start.
The countering non-traditional threats are crucial for both Russian and Pakistani leadership. On the Russian side, President Putin’s world view is based on a balanced diplomatic approach to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan and the Middle East. From the Pakistani viewpoint, PM Imran Khan has provided full political support to its military to help establish an Afghan-owned peace, but also to address the regional cooperation. Despite all the Western propaganda, President Putin’s support to his professional military is exemplary, both in terms of traditions and against the emerging threats of IS in Afghanistan and beyond.
Similarly, despite all the regional constraints, Pakistan’s military, under the leadership of PM Imran Khan, is too committed to fully support the regional counterterror efforts, especially with that of Russia. The case in point is the recent appointment of the DG ISI. As the new head of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, Lt. General Faiz Hameed completed one of the most successful terms as head of internal security within the ISI, and under his watch, there was a significant drop in violence in all parts of the country. The General has completed two courses from overseas and has been in crucial postings through his career and has seen field action against the terrorist organizations. His latest posting is a culmination of a decade of sensitive postings. The strengthening security partnership between Russia and Pakistan will be a great opportunity for the new DG ISI and his Russian counterpart to further enhance cooperation against the syndicate of terrorist organizations.
The Pakistani civil-military leadership definitely considers Russia as an emerging strategic partner; the strategic cooperation between Russia and Pakistan is evolved over the last given years, but under the prevailing regional and international security threats, the leadership on the Pakistani side has now taken a sense of urgency.