Abdullah Abdullah, the chair of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, will lead an Afghan delegation to Moscow later this week to attend talks organized by Russia. The announced delegation includes a former president, two former vice presidents, a reconciled insurgent leader, and just one woman.
Last week, Russia invited representatives of China, Pakistan, and the United States, as well as the Afghan government and Taliban, for talks scheduled for March 18. The Russian talks emerged amid ongoing soul-searching and strategizing in Washington regarding the Biden administration’s next steps in Afghanistan. Indeed, the invitations for the Moscow meeting went out just after TOLOnews leaked an undated, presumably recent, letter from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Afghanistan’s leaders outlining U.S. thinking regarding Afghanistan.
In the letter, Blinken suggested a high-level United Nations conference including representatives from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the United States to “discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.” Blinken also suggested Turkey as host for senior-level meetings between the Taliban and the Afghan government to finalize a peace agreement and urged the settling of an agreement on a propose 90-day reduction-in-violence.
In the letter, Blinken noted that U.S. Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad would be dispatched to the Taliban and Kabul with a proposal — the proposal was also leaked and generated quite a stir in Kabul.
The U.S. State Department confirmed on Monday that Khalilzad intended to attend the talks in Moscow. A spokesperson responded during a press briefing that the Moscow meeting “will complement all other international efforts to support the Afghanistan peace process and also reflects the international community’s concerns about the progress to date.”
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorized the meeting in Moscow, as well as the proposed conference in Turkey, as “complementary to the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations in Doha and not as a substitute to it.”
The announced Afghan delegation drew criticism on social media, notably for the lack of women on the roster amid deepening concerns that women will be left behind in a future peace with the Taliban.
In addition to Abdullah, 15 other individuals were announced to be in the delegation. These include members of the Afghan government, such as Parliament Speaker Rahman Rahmani, Senate Deputy Speaker Alam Izedyar, State Minister for Peace Affairs Sayed Sadat Mansoor Nader, and Deputy Minister for Peace Affairs Abdullah Khinjani. Abdullah’s deputy in the reconciliation council, Babur Farahmand, as well as Chief Negotiator Masoom Stanekzai are also in the delegation. Three other members of the country’s 21-member peace negotiation team are also in the delegation: Matin Bek, Nader Nadery, and the delegation’s only woman, Habiba Sarabi.
Also coming in threes: former leaders and former warlords. Former President Hamid Karzai, as well as former vice presidents Abdual Rashid Dostim and Mohammad Karim Khalili are joining the delegation. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, which signed a peace agreement with the Afghan government in 2016, will also join the trip to Moscow with two members of Hizb-e-Islami, Abdul Sattar Khawasi and Ghairat Bahir, in tow.
As Milad Naeimi argued in an article published by The Diplomat last week, the shaping of a future peace agreement in Afghanistan appears to be taking a familiar path, prioritizing the input of elites over those of people. The resulting agreements, like that which crafted the current Afghan government, only seed the roots of future conflict among elites. “[T]he problem with Afghanistan is that it is always in transition from a bad situation to an unclear future,” Naeimi wrote. “And this trend is to the advantage of the elites and to the detriment of people.”
The makeup of the Afghan delegation features high-profile names, sure, but many — like Dostum and Hekmatyar — are infamous for their roles in devastating Afghanistan in previous rounds of conflict. Can men who have failed so many times before to secure Afghanistan’s future truly chart a better way forward?