Taliban Officials Take Part in Moscow Format, Discuss Future of Afghanistan to Regional Powers

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Taliban officials are currently in the city of Kazan, Tatarstan, taking part in the “Moscow Format,” which was established in 2017 as a meeting between special envoys of Russia, India, Iran, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to discuss Afghan economic, political, and security issues.

This format meeting marks the first inclusion of the Taliban government since the fall of Afghanistan in 2021. Taliban Deputy Spokesman, Hafiz Zia Ahmad, said earlier this week that acting Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi would discuss “various political and economic issues” at the meeting. Since the takeover, the Taliban has tried to legitimize itself on the global playing field to increase foreign investments and aid.

China and Regional Security

Muttaqi met with representatives from Pakistan and China earlier today, where “the relations, common interests and threats of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China were discussed in detail.”

Spokesman Ahmad stated that “The foreign minister described Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan as friendly and insisted that when problems arise, efforts should be made to resolve them through diplomatic means instead of media statements.The representative of Pakistan also insisted that the problems should be resolved through bilateral diplomatic channels.”

“The Chinese side praised the bilateral diplomacy of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has found a timely solution to the related problems. The Chinese side also assured that as a country that supports security, stability and development in the region, it is ready to increase its assistance to Afghanistan in many fields,” he added.

Since the withdrawal of international forces and the Taliban takeover in August 2021, China has sought to tap into Afghanistan’s economic potential, laying the foundation for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) expansion into the country through trade and investments, as well as exploiting the vast natural resources the country has to offer, such as oil, gas, copper, gold, lithium, and other rare earth metals, which are worth an estimated $1 trillion. The Taliban has expressed interest in creating a trade route with China and connecting Afghanistan to BRI initiatives, which Taliban  deputy Minister of Economy Abdul Latif Nazari noted that “The connection of Afghanistan with the One Belt One Road initiatives or Silk Road benefits Afghan stability and development.”

Earlier this year, the Taliban signed a 25 year deal with China’s state-owned Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Company to pump oil in the Amu Sea basin, marking their first international contract since taking over Afghanistan. At the time, Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated “This company will invest up to 150 million dollars a year, which will increase to 540 million dollars in 3 years. According to the contract, the Islamic Emirate will be a 20 percent partner, and this share and amount will increase up to 75 percent. 3000 Afghans will be employed in this project.”

China, however, may still be weary in shifting its BRI focus to Afghanistan as the country continues to face security threats from other militant groups operating in the country, such as Uyghur extremists and the Islamic State. Likewise, the Taliban faces increasing criticism by Pakistan for not doing enough to counter attacks by ISKP and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has strained bilateral relations. The Taliban denies having involvement with the TTP, despite the two historically having close ties. China has the potential to tap into the Taliban to offer protection in exchange for increased investment opportunities, which comes as the Taliban still faces several billions of dollars frozen in international funds.

Security Concerns

According to a declaration issued at the end of the Kazan meetings, “The parties noted with concern the difficult security situation in Afghanistan due to the intensification of the activities of terrorist groups, primarily ISIS. Appreciated the current Afghan authorities for their serious fight against ISIS and urged them to do the same against all terrorist groups. Called on the current Afghan authorities to take effective measures to dismantle, eliminate and prevent placement of all sorts of terrorist groups based in Afghanistan and to prevent the country from being the terrorism and instability hotspot and spreading to the regional states.”

The declaration also noted “the reduction in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan caused by successful steps of the current Afghan authorities,” where it “Stressed the importance of continuing real and its effective anti-drug policy, including against industrial drug production, which indicate a serious and dangerous increase.”

The participants of the Format “called on the current Afghan authorities to step up cooperation with the regional countries in the fight against the threats of terrorism and drug-trafficking emanating from the Afghan territory. Most participants stressed their opposition to the support for terrorism in Afghanistan by external forces.”

“Inclusive Government”

The declaration stated that “[The attendees] Regretfully stated that there had been no progress in forming a truly inclusive government in Afghanistan, reflecting the interests of all ethno-political groups of the country… Despite the appointment of some individual representatives of various Afghan ethnicities to the Kabul administration, the parties observed no political pluralism in it.”

“Once again urged the current Afghan authorities to establish a practical, outcome-oriented dialogue with the representatives of alternative ethno-political groups with a view to completing the process of peaceful settlement and forging a balanced, more broad-based, inclusive, accountable and responsible government in Afghanistan.”

It went on to add that “The participants spoke out for respect of fundamental rights and freedoms in Afghanistan, including equal rights to work, education and justice, without distinction as to gender, ethnicity or religion. Stressed upon their concern about imposed restrictions on women’s employment and girls’ education. Urged the current Afghan authorities to promote the modern education in the schools conforming to international standards.”

Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, had said on Friday that “Inclusive governance in Afghanistan is important for the Afghan people first of all, we proceed from this. Any other non-inclusive structure is short-lived.” he went on to echo the declaration, saying that “We are not engaged in breakthroughs, we are engaged in solving a problem, it requires patience … (Our position) implies a patient explanation that will convince our Afghan partners that they need to improve the system of public administration in the country and think more about their people.”

A Way Forward

The declaration concluded by calling on the “US-led Western coalition, whose 20-year actions led to the current crisis in Afghanistan, recognizes and shoulders its responsibility for post-conflict reconstruction of the country, and unfreeze the Afghan national assets and lift unilateral sanctions, immediately.”

“The parties advocated for Afghanistan as an independent, united and peaceful state. They underscored the unacceptability of deployment of military infrastructure facilities of third countries in Afghanistan and its neighboring states under any pretext.”

While appreciating the prospects for the development of regional economic projects with participation of Afghanistan, emphasized the need to strengthen bilateral and multilateral economic ties. The parties reaffirmed the opposition to attempts at politicizing humanitarian assistance and highlighted the importance of continuing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” the declaration concluded.

The declaration was adopted by all participants of the meeting, except Tajikistan, who did not elaborate as to why.