Moscow’s Great Game

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  • What Afghans want

The Russians mediating to put an end to a long American misadventure in Afghanistan would have elicited a chuckle from the most serious quarters had it not been for the scale of the senseless death and destruction that this war has brought. And, everybody noticed, Moscow has been more successful in one try than the Americans, and their allied stakeholders, have been in almost two decades. Already a trend has come to the fore; one that, if dealt with in the right spirit, might just ensure some progress in terms of ending the war.

For all the problems the Afghans have with other players in this conflict, especially Pakistan – for a whole host of reasons – they must also notice how their own positions keep any possible progress at bay. The Taliban, it turns out, though eager for a breakthrough will not commit to any deal unless their own concerns are met. Some of them include end to travel sanctions for their senior leadership and a permanent office from where they can negotiate. The Afghan government, for its part, still harbours concerns that go back to the Karzai days. In short, they remain dead against any such freedom for the insurgents, especially an office where they quickly fly their old flag.

The Afghan government needs to realise that its writ is not going to be established on the whole country unless it accommodates the Taliban. The insurgents, on the other hand, also understand that no matter how much ground they gain, they will never take the capital or form government again. And since this stalemate is resulting in hundreds of needless deaths every month, a compromise is now essential. But for any real progress it is the Afghans themselves who must take the lead. If they can overcome idealistic positions for a more realistic approach, they might not have to throw so much blame on other players for their own failings.