A gathering of Afghanistan’s neighbors, plus Russia, in Iran on October 27 called an inclusive government the “only solution” to the problems in Afghanistan.
This was the second meeting of the foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighbors, with the new addition of Russia, which does not border Afghanistan. The first meeting took place via video in early September and was attended by the foreign ministers of China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. A third meeting is planned for 2022 in China, according to the recent joint statement. This emerging neighborhood club has shared concerns regarding Afghanistan’s stability.
Although packaged in the standard form of a joint statement, the subtext is barely concealed criticism of the West while offering the same bland suggestions as the West.
The foreign ministers, per the statement, agreed that “countries primarily responsible for the difficulties in Afghanistan should earnestly deliver on their commitment, and provide Afghanistan with urgently needed economic, livelihood and humanitarian assistance to help realize a stable transition of the situation in Afghanistan.”
One can read this as a direct dig at the United States and NATO, whose 20-year mission in the country failed to root a republic-style democratic government deeply enough in Afghanistan. That much was made clear in some of the foreign ministers’ statements as well as the opening remarks from Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber.
The Western-backed Afghan government disintegrated in mid-August, with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing without notice and the house of cards collapsing soon after. Afghans — especially those who worked with Western organizations and militaries and were left behind — are righteously irate at the United States and its partners.
But Afghans have also pointed accusing fingers at Pakistan for the past two decades and it’s doubtful Islamabad meant itself as one of the “countries primarily responsible for the difficulties in Afghanistan.” Shortly before Kabul fell to the Taliban, an Associated Press report stated, “many Afghans blame Pakistan for the insurgents’ success, pointing to their use of Pakistani territory in multiple ways.” Suspicions of Pakistani motives with regard to Afghanistan run deep. For much of the last two decades, the Afghan Taliban have had a de facto safe harbor in Pakistan, operating out of Quetta.
And then there’s Russia. Before the United States spent two decades trying to sort out Afghanistan, the Soviet Union engaged in its own decade-long occupation of the country from 1979 to 1989. Moscow made its own effort to install on Afghan soil a government in its own image. Not only did the Soviet Union’s efforts in Afghanistan fail, but they arguably contributed to the Soviet Union’s own collapse in 1991.
The reality is that if Afghanistan’s neighbors, and the international community, are looking for the “countries primarily responsible for the difficulties in Afghanistan,” they will need a very big mirror.
Moving on, the joint statement doesn’t really offer much new. It hews to standard diplomatic language, stressing “support for the national sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, and non-interference in its internal affairs” and recalling “the universally accepted principles of international law in particular the Afghan people’s right to decide on their own future independently.”
The statement reiterates what has quickly become the go-to position for the international community with regard to Afghanistan: “Noting that an inclusive and broad-based political structure with the participation of all ethno-political groups is the only solution to Afghanistan issues.” The necessity of an “inclusive” Afghan government has been repeated ad nauseum with little apparent effect on the Taliban’s government decisions.
In its 11 declarations, the joint statement focuses on support for dialogue and negotiation and a “return to normal” in which government agencies operate and basic public services are provided. Afghanistan’s neighbors also emphasized the responsibilities of the “relevant parties” in Afghanistan to “take friendly approach toward neighboring countries” and maintain its commitments that “the territory of Afghanistan will not pose any threats to the neighboring countries and will not be used by criminal, terrorist and separatist groups, and cut ties with all kinds of terrorist groups, strike and eliminate them in a decisive manner.”
The declarations are a veritable wishlist: calls on the “relevant parties” to confront the challenges of terrorism, drug smuggling, human trafficking, organized crime, and also to address the root causes of refugee migration and forced displacement; calls for the international community to provide financial support to countries (particularly Iran and Pakistan) hosting Afghan refugees and provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance.
In a video address to the gathering, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed, without apparent irony, the hopes of many exasperated by endless meetings about Afghanistan over the past few decades: “I hope that the habit of Westerners holding conferences for the sake of conferences has become a thing of the past. The time has come for concrete action on this front.”
It’s not clear if the meeting resulted in any concrete actions.