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Afghanistan and Russia: Still searching for appropriate structures of governance

By Rene Wadlow

On Friday, 9 November 2018, at the invitation of the Russian Government and under the chairmanship of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began what has been called “The Moscow Format” to end the armed conflicts and to find appropriate structures of governance in Afghanistan. Present for the first time were representatives of the Afghanistan High Peace Council – a government-appointed body charged with overseeing the peace process and a five-member delegation of the Taliban from its political office in Doha, Qatar.  Indicating an awareness of the trans-frontier aspects of the Afghanistan armed conflicts, there  were representatives from China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  The U.S.A. declined to participate but sent its  chief political officer from the Moscow Embassy as an “observer”.

This was the first time that representatives from all the concerned parties were in the same room at the same time.  In the past there have been back-channel bi-lateral meetings with the Taliban, especially in Qatar and bilateral discussions among government representatives elsewhere. However the Moscow Format was the first discussion held in public.

Sergei Lavrov articulated the long-range aim. “Russia stands for preserving the one and undivided Afghanistan in which all ot the ethnic groups that inhabit this country would live side by side peacefully and happily.”

The Taliban and Afghanistan High Peace Council each reiterated their unacceptable demands, but said that they were willing to meet again.  There were no sudden break-though to positions that could lead to negotiations and compromise, but none were expected.  The Moscow Format is a necessary first step on what is likely to be a long and difficult n process.  The Format recognizes that there are  important trans-frontier aspects and consequences of different types.

The trans-frontier aspect has been recently highlighted by the presence of fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS) in Afghanistan but also in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan , and Uzbekistan.  As ISIS is pushed out of Syria and Iraq, fighters have wished to continue their fight elsewhere and have joined with existing militant Islamist groups existing elsewhere such as those in the Central Asian States and Afghanistan. However, the ISIS fighters have not been welcomed by the Taliban and seem to be operating separately.

It is not clear that the Government and the Taliban are in a position to negotiate a country-wide cease-fire and the creation of a structured government administration.  It is thought by observers that 30 per cent of the  country is under the control of the Government and four per cent under the Taliban.  However, “control” does not necessarily mean  that there are administrative services of health, education and agricultural development.

Afghanistan began its first post-Royal republican life in 1972 under the leadership of Sadar Mohammed Daoud who ruled until 1979.  There were few changes from the royal period, the King having been a cousin of Daoud.  However, some ideas about the need to plan on a national level were introduced by Afghan students who had studies in the Soviet Union.  The coming to power of the Presidents Hafizullah Amin and Nur Taraki, both from rival factions of the Afghan Communist Party led to a vision of national planning and agricultural reform.  However, both reforms were undertaken with little development of a favorable public opinion.  The agricultural reforms in particular led to resistance from local power holders. This opposition seemed to put the whole State structure into question, leading to the Soviet intervention in the first days of 1980 to support the Government.

The Soviet intervention led to armed opposition and large areas of the country fell out of the range of any form of government services.  The Soviets withdrew in 1988 leaving a country without a national administration but with a host of armed groups holding political influence over small areas of the country.

By 1996, some of these armed groups which had come together under the name of Taliban (students of theology) were able to take control of Kabul and said that they were the government of the country.  In 2001, the Taliban were pushed out of power by U.S. forces, the U.S. Government holding them  responsible for the September attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.  Since the end of 2001, there has been armed violence, a lack of economic development, and a  failure to find appropriate forms of governance.  There is a need to find appropriate forms of governance which are able to structure local traditions of social control, regional and ethnic-religious differences as well as having structures and services at the level of the State.

The Association of World Citizens has been involved since the early 1980s with discussions of appropriate forms of governance in Afghanistan.  The Afghan constitutional law  professor who had largely written the first republican constitution of 1972 was living in exile in Geneva and was very helpful in  giving background information.  In addition, there were Afghan intellectuals passing through Geneva on their way to or from Rome where the former Afghan King was living in exile. Thus in 1983 the Association proposed that “there be a broadly-based, highly decentralized Government of National Reconciliation. Afghanistan is a country of great cultural diversity and a wide range of local conditions. Therefore, political and social decision-making must be made at the most local level possible.  There should be policies of local self-reliance based on existing regional and ethnic structures.  Such local self-government will mitigate against a ‘winner-take-all’ mentality of centralized political systems.”

The Association of World Citizens continues the con-federalist, decentralization, trans-frontier cooperation proposals of the world citizens Denis de Rougemont (1906 -1985) and Alenandre Marc (1904-2000). Thus the Association of World Citizens remains concerned with the efforts to find appropriate forms of governance  in Afghanistan.  We are still far from a condition in which “all of the ethnic groups live side by side peacefully and happily” but we must work together with that aim in view.

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Rene Wadlow

Rene Wadlow is the President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation on and problem-solving in economic and social issues.

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