In trying to gain a regional foothold, Moscow hosts Afghan peace talks

(From the left) Head of Afghanistan delegation and Deputy Chairman of High Peace Council, Hajji Din Mohammad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, pose for a photo during the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia, on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018
0

In trying to gain a regional foothold, Moscow hosts Afghan peace talks

  • Aims to boost historical importance and diminish role played by US
  • Experts say all parties involved have vested interests and are just buying time

KABUL: Russia hosted a regional conference on Friday to explore solutions for a peaceful settlement of the US-led conflict in Afghanistan, one which experts say proliferated extremism in the country and turned it into an indirect battleground for various powers.
The one-day meeting, the first-of-its-kind to be held in Russia, is not expected to produce any quick results for Afghanistan’s complex war which began more than four decades ago. The meeting had been rescheduled several times because of US’ and Kabul’s reluctance to be part of the talks.
This time, however, Washington has sent a diplomat to attend the conference as an observer, while Kabul decided against assigning a delegation because of differences with Moscow. “The issue is that Russia, just like others, has its own goals and concerns about the war and wants to hear different solutions on how to end it,” Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst told Arab News. “It was a good occasion for all sides to have expressed their views,” he said, adding that Kabul missed a golden opportunity by not participating.
He added that Washington and Kabul’s unwillingness to send official delegations to the conference could result in bringing China and Central Asia closer to Moscow, who may argue that the US is unhappy with their intervention in finding a solution to the Afghan conflict.
Government officials did not return calls for a comment on Friday, but a statement released by the palace said that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, in a consultative meeting with a group of Afghan leaders on Thursday, emphasized that the peace process should be run and owned by the Afghans. 
Russia was a key foe of the Taliban government which ruled much of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 when the US toppled them from power. It also armed opposition forces looking to contain the spread of Islamist groups across the country.
However, in recent years, Russia has forged closer ties with the group and Pakistan, seen historically as a  key supporter of the Taliban and its Cold War-era rival. Russia has also held several rounds of military drills with Pakistani forces.
Just like the Taliban, Pakistan, and Iran, Moscow, too, wants the US-led troops to withdraw from Afghanistan and eyes Washington with deep skepticism, going as far as to blame it for the creation of Daesh. The US denies the charge; with its former top commander for Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson --  during a BBC interview earlier this year-- accusing Moscow of supplying arms and equipment to Taliban fighters.
Kamal Nasir Osoli, an Afghan lawmaker told Arab News that Russia wants to revive and boost its historical role in Afghanistan which dates back to more than seven decades. But at the same time, he said Moscow wanted a stable Afghanistan because a volatile and unsafe neighbor was a risk not just for Central Asia, but for Russia too.
“Russia is in a political confrontation with Britain and US elsewhere, but militarily involved in Syria. It wants to show that it is still a superpower by playing its cards in Afghanistan’s affairs too,” Ajmal Hodmand, a political science professor, said, adding that Moscow’s meeting was a good opportunity for the Taliban to show the Afghans that they have a global hold and are no longer isolated or reliant on Pakistan.
“The Taliban are showing that they have a political identity and are a force to be reckoned. Russia wants to pass on a message to its rivals that it can have an influence on Afghanistan and the Taliban and can use them against its rivals. Like the war here is a proxy one, the peace is becoming a proxy peace too,” he said.
He added that the resumption of efforts and a regional tour on part of US’ special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad was parallel to Moscow’s meeting -- Washington wanted Kabul to join hands with those countries which are closer to the US. There have been a series of meetings involving Taliban delegates and Europeans in recent years -- and most recently with representatives from the US -- about the prospect of the war.
Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence director of Afghanistan said all those involved in the process for peace were after their own interests. “More than 12 countries have their own so-called peace process for Afghanistan and they call it Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. In reality, much of it is aimed at connecting with terrorists and buying time for their homeland,” he said in a tweet on Friday, adding that “neither their intent nor their conduct for peace efforts is helping Afghanistan.”


More than 100 China experts urge China to release Canadians

In this file photo an undated picture released on December 11, 2018 in Washington by the International Crisis Group shows former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2019
0

More than 100 China experts urge China to release Canadians

  • More than 20 diplomats from seven countries and more than 100 scholars and academics from 19 countries signed

TORONTO: More than 100 academics and former diplomats are calling on China to release two Canadians who have been detained in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive in Canada.
The letter by a wide array of China experts from around the world is addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It says the arrests of the two Canadians sends a worrisome signal to those who work in policy and research in China.
China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of US authorities.
Meng is the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder. The US wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
The letter, released Monday, notes Kovrig is a former diplomat who was working as an expert on Asia for the International Crisis Group think tank. It notes that Spavor devoted his time to building relationships between North Korea and China, Canada and United States.
It praises Kovrig and Spavor as bridge-builders between China and the world and said their arrests make writers “more cautious” about traveling to China.
“Meetings and exchanges are the foundation of serious research and diplomacy around the world, including for Chinese scholars and diplomats,” the letter says. “Kovrig and Spavor’s detentions send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China.”
The letter said the arrests will lead to “less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result.”
More than 20 diplomats from seven countries and more than 100 scholars and academics from 19 countries signed.
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, signed the letter and noted it comes as Canada is working to rally international support for the case.
“It will be noticed in Beijing and I hope that it will make clear for them that the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are not only a China-Canada problem but it’s also having an impact on the image of and reputation of China,” Saint-Jacques said. “It’s an impressive list.”
The signatories include former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Chris Patten, former British governor of Hong Kong. Two former US ambassadors to China, Gary Locke and Winston Lord, also signed.
David Mulroney, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said the letter is significant because it shows the international breadth of support for the two men.
“This isn’t simply a Canada-China dispute,” Mulroney said. “A lot of serious people, including many who have spent years working in China, are worried about how it is closing itself off, and punishing those who seek to understand and interpret it for others.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he encourages friends and allies around the world to point out that all countries should stand up for the rule of law.