ANKARA (Realist English). The US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, met in Turkey with the leaders of the united Afghan opposition — members of the “Supreme Council of Resistance for the Salvation of Afghanistan” (SCR). There is no reliable information about the results of the meetings yet, but the fact of this public contact itself is sensational.
Of course, the Americans have communicated with veterans of Afghan politics in exile previously. But those were secret, unofficial meetings. Now Tom West’s conversations mark the beginning of a new American game in Afghanistan.
Obviously, this will be a full—fledged and almost monopoly two-handed game – with the government of the Taliban* (an organization whose activities are banned in the Russian Federation) and the united anti-Taliban opposition represented by the SCR. The Americans thereby secured the initiative in the Afghan “great game” again, forcing everyone else, including Russia and China, to trail the tail of Washington’s intrigues. And not unsuccessful intrigues.
The United States is beginning to form a new balance of political forces in the Afghan political process, closing on Washington priority contacts with all its main participants. The ideal role of an “honest broker” in the Afghan game has again been snatched by Washington.
Russia, and China, will now have to respond to the new American project in Afghanistan. That is, to catch up with Washington, and the one who is catching up, as is known, is always late.
Moscow’s very short-sighted bet on cooperation with the Taliban junta predictably turned out to be a beaten. Despite all the gutta-perchance of Mr. Zamir Kabulov and his diplomatic group, it did not work out to make the Taliban at least relatively reliable allies of the Kremlin. Moreover, the Taliban are no allies for Russia at all.
At the same time, the “Nesselrodes” from the Smolenskaya Square stupidly missed unique opportunities for cooperation with serious anti-Taliban opposition groups, defiantly ignoring Ahmad Masood’s “National Resistance Front of Afghanistan” (FNSA) (allegedly, “this is a virtual phenomenon”), the shuttle diplomacy of Shakir Kargar and Hanif Atmar, the potential of the now former Afghan ambassador to Moscow Syed Tayyib Javad, etc.
As a result, today, Russia does not have any serious and promising mechanisms for her own successful game in Afghanistan. It is impossible to consider as such a Kremlin resource Hamid Karzai (who is under house arrest in Kabul) and who became a washed-up has-been after Ashraf Ghani. Yes, he is a great friend and business partner of Zamir Kabulov, but this is where his real pro-Russian virtues end. In any case, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s bet on Karzai turned out to be as unsuccessful as on the Taliban.
On the contrary, Washington has got its hands on almost all the main political tools that allow it to regain its status as the main operator of the Afghan game. The legitimization of the SCR (through meetings of its leaders with the West in Turkey) immediately raises the political stakes of this opposition group. Which, by the way, includes Ahmad Masood, who was not present at the meeting with the American special representative. Undoubtedly, the Taliban will shudder, to whom an open signal about the end of their “honeymoon” in Kabul has been sent. And now the Taliban leaders will even more actively seek the favor of Washington, which is preparing the “furious mullahs” for a new deal — of course, “in the interests of the Afghan people and, quite a bit, the United States”.
And Russian diplomats will be watching as spectators the new stage of the big game in Afghanistan. Because the main roles in this “performance” were sorted out by more effective actors.
* an organization whose activities are prohibited in the Russian Federation.
Andrei Serenko is the Head of the Center for the Study of Afghan Politics