Afghanistan: A Buffer Between Coalitions, a Common Concern, or a Common Threat?
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On September 17, the Valdai Club held a discussion in partnership with the Indian Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a think tank, titled “Afghanistan under Taliban rule: A view from Russia and India”. Opening the discussion, the moderator Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Club, noted that Russia and India - two major regional players facing similar challenges - should coordinate their positions and exchange views on what is happening in Afghanistan, and perhaps coordinate their actions.

Andrey Kazantsev, Chief Researcher at the Analytical Center of the Institute for International Studies (IMR) of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that China could turn into the nucleus of three superimposed conflicts at once - the "new cold war" (USA - Russia, USA - China), India’s conflicts with Pakistan and with China, and the great Middle East conflict (the so-called Sunni-Shiite war). In this case, the participation of major players could create a situation similar to the one in Syria or Libya. The expert called this formidable scenario very likely.

Anatol Lieven, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, argued that the likelihood of a civil war in Afghanistan is not so great. The Taliban (banned in Russia) took over the country more easily than in the 1990s this time, and in addition, learned how to attract Sunni minorities to their side, which reduces the likelihood of a purely ethnic conflict. In his opinion, all countries in the region are interested in acting as a united front and coordinating their actions, because only in this way will they be able to control the Taliban to a certain extent.

Indian National Security Advisory Council Chairman P.S. Raghavan noted the non-inclusive nature of the Taliban-formed government, but added that if the Taliban continue to rule the country, even without international recognition, they will need money. In a good scenario, this would enable the international community to push it towards greater inclusiveness. It’s necessary for all of the players in the region to take part in this effort, since they all benefit from the pacification of Afghanistan.

Jyoti Malhotra, Senior Consulting Editor at The Print, India, spoke from the position of a long-serving journalist in Afghanistan. According to her, a large proportion of the educated elite and intellectuals have fled the country. This, she projected, would lead to a slide into barbarism. The question is, she believes, whether or not the Taliban really wants to become more moderate and emerge as an internationally-recognised political force.

Ivan Safranchuk, Director of the Center of Euroasian Research of the Institute for International Studies at MGIMO University, spoke about the failed plan for the transit of power in Afghanistan, which was apparently developed with the joint participation of Russian and American diplomats and assumed the creation of a coalition government, which would include the Taliban. If this had happened America would have painlessly left the country, and Afghanistan would retain its international funding. However, in reality, everything turned out differently, and, as a result, the Taliban feel the right to act according to the "winner takes it all" principle and not share power with others. He also noted that Afghanistan is likely to face its traditional role as a buffer between international coalitions. Neither Afghanistan as an international treasure and an object of common concern, nor Afghanistan as a common threat is any longer possible, but the country is also unlikely to become an arena for a direct clash between major players.

Shanthie Mariet D'Souza, Founding Professor at the Kautilya School of Public Policy, focused on the Taliban's ties with international terrorist organisations, pointing out the involvement of a number of Taliban cabinet members in their activities and adding that a number of former al-Qaeda and Daesh functionaries are involved in the activities of the Taliban. (Organisations banned in Russia). This, in particular, reduces the likelihood of the UN Security Council sanctions against the Taliban being lifted and reduces the chances of recognition of the new Afghan authorities by the international community.

The results of the discussion were summed up by Nandan Unnikrishnan, honorary fellow of the Observer Research Foundation. He compared the positions of Russia and India on the Afghan issue and pointed out that both sides have a limited number of levers with which to influence the situation, and therefore should be careful about defining their interests in Afghanistan and forming the most realistic approach to the problem. This, in his opinion, opens up opportunities for cooperation.