Doç. Dr.  Dilek Yiğit Doç. Dr. Dilek Yiğit

US-Russian Rivalry In Peace Talks In Afghanistan

31 October 2018
US-Russian Rivalry In Peace Talks In Afghanistan

Afghan President Ghani, who had sent out an invitation for negotiations with no conditions attached to the Taleban in February to end the violence in the country and to bring peace has not received a positive response.  The reason why the Taleban did not accept Ghani’s offer for negotiations was not that the organisation that controls more than half the country feels no need for negotiations but wants to negotiate directly with the USA. The Taleban published an open letter in which it invited the American people and “peace-loving” members of the Congress to put pressure on Trump to directly negotiate with the Taleban. [1] This has brought up the question whether the USA will enter into direct negotiations with the Taleban. In his statements, Trump has said he will not negotiate with the Taleban and called on all states to take decisive action against the Taleban[2], which signalled that there was no possibility of the USA directly negotiating with the Taleban.  However, that the signal was false was revealed in time with press reporting. In July it was claimed that the Trump administration had instructed high level diplomats for direct negotiations with the Taleban and that these reports were confirmed by US and Afghan officials.[3]  If the reports are true, talks between the USA and Taleban began this summer in Doha.

That the USA has accepted to deal directly with the Taleban points at a change in the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy. The USA must hold that dealing directly with the Taleban is necessary to end the violence in Afghanistan and for the establishment of peace.  This approach of the US administration, as pleasing as it must have been to the Taleban who called for direct negotiations, must have been as displeasing to the Afghan government. Direct talks between the USA and the Taleban come with the risk of excluding the Afghan government from the peace process in Afghanistan and could further weaken the legitimacy of the Afghan government. [4]  

Direct talks between the US administration and the Taleban must have also been discomforting to those Afghans who believe that peace in Afghanistan can only come about through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process.

US officials, in order to calm down the Afghan government and those who believe that peace in Afghanistan can only be brought about by Afghans, and to win the support of the Afghan people, have stated that the process is being run with the full knowledge of the Afghan government and that the main aim of talks between the USA and Afghanistan is to furnish grounds for negotiations between the government of Afghanistan and the Taleban.

Whether its intention is to exclude the Afghan government from the process or not, by accepting to negotiate directly with the Taleban, Washington has sent out an important message to the world public. The message is clear: “There can be no peace in Afghanistan without the USA.”

On the other hand, Russia, which has been running foreign policy aimed at ending the post-Cold War era, does not intend to sit on the sidelines in Afghanistan. At a time in which the rehearsal for a new Cold War is underway, US sources have claimed that Russia is giving the Taleban financial support and arms and thereby trying to sabotage the USA’s policy in Afghanistan. These US claims are a part of the general claim that Russia is supporting anti-western regimes and groups around the world. Russia has retorted that US claims about its activities in Afghanistan are unfounded claims aimed towards hiding the failure of the USA in Afghanistan.   

Tensions over Afghanistan have been rising between Russia and the USA.

It was at this point that a Russian Foreign Ministry official stated that they did not believe there was potential for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taleban. The Russian statement should not be read as suggesting no talks should take place between the Afghan government and the Taleban. On the contrary, Russia does not think that a process excluding the Taleban will bring peace to Afghanistan. What Russia is implying that unless Moscow intervenes, there is no possibility of talks between the sides.  What Russia implied was said out clearly by Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Moscow Abdul Qayum Kuchai, who said that by forcing the Taleban to hold talks with Kabul, Russia will play an important role for peace in Afghanistan. [5]  

Last July, Russia took action with Putin’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov announcing that they would invite the Taleban to Moscow for official talks and the invitation was conveyed in August. According to press reports, the Taleban spokesman said they would attend the Russian-led peace talks and announced that the Taleban accepted the Russian invitation.

Russia has conveyed the same invitation to the USA and the Afghan government. The Afghan government turned down the invitation by saying that they would seek direct negotiations with the Taleban without the engagement of foreign powers. [6] The USA refused the Russian invitation, saying that peace in Afghanistan can only be established by an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process and that the Russian initiative would not bear results.  Later it was reported that Russia had postponed the talks on the demand of the Afghan government. Since Russia has postponed the talks indefinitely, the postponement is better taken as a cancellation.  

Therefore, for now, Russia has failed in its attempt at directing peace talks in Afghanistan. This can also be seen as an indicator that in Afghanistan, Russia is not as strong an actor as the USA.  However, under circumstances of a rehearsal of Cold War conditions, this failure will not discourage Russia.

Putting aside this instance of Russian failure, one needs to focus on questions which need to be clearly answered by the Afghan government as well as the Taleban.

What precisely does the Afghan government mean by an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process?  What are the limits to the roles to be played by foreign powers in such a process and is the limit the same for the USA and Russia?

Why did the Taleban accept the Russian invitation when they wanted to deal directly only with the USA? Is the Taleban’s acceptance of the Russian invitation a ploy used against the USA to get the USA to the negotiating table with the Taleban?


This article was published previously in The Diplomatic Observer October 2018






[1], 14 February 2018


[2],  29 January 2018


[3], 15 July 2018


[4], 3 August 2018


[5],  19 July 2018


[6], 22 August 2018