Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, March 21st, 2019

Regional Competition over Hosting Afghan Peace Process

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Regional Competition over Hosting Afghan Peace Process

After 2001, many of regional countries considered the Taliban as a terrorist group because they committed human crimes against civilians with disregarding international law. When Taliban took over the power, three regional countries (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates) recognized the government of Taliban.  Following the September 11th incident and the United States’ decision to overthrow the Taliban’s regime, they were forced to desist from supporting Taliban and joined the US front to fight against terrorism. As the Afghan peace talks have accelerated in recent months, some regional countries have become more generous to host the Afghan peace process thank others. The basic question is what these countries (including Russia, the UAE, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) are seeking? To answer this question, there is need for a brief overview of the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia and Iran towards the region.
Based on realistic theory on international relations, all governments struggle to optimize their national interests and security which they pursue them through maintaining a status quo or an expansionist policy.  Iran and Saudi Arabia are the two countries that have acute ideological and regional completions in the region and across the Islamic world. After changes in their containment policy towards Iraq in 1979, the foreign policy of these two countries not only fluctuated, but also took a hostile approach towards each other. Their foreign policies are based on the use of religion as a means of expanding their influences and weakening the rival’s position.  After the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1979, the two countries found opportunity to expand their influence in Afghanistan as from one hand the central government was debilitated; and on the other hand, the imposed crisis facilitated the religious propaganda of the two countries in the format of contributing jihad against communism and the Soviet Union.
During this period, Saudi Arabia established thousands of religious schools in Pakistan and areas outside the control of the Afghan government, and thousands of Afghan children who often had lost their families in war against the Soviet Union, joined these schools to learn religious teachings. In addition, these schools provided some fiscal aid to families of those children.  People who graduated from these schools contrasted with traditional and moderate Islam of the Afghan community which was Hanafi but they were aligned with Salafists, especially Wahhabism, which has a strict interpretation from Islam. Students of these religious schools have been trained to have faith in jihad and to take part in Afghanistan’s war against Soviet Union.
In 1989, the Soviet Union left Afghanistan but another three years of war continued with the Soviet-backed government while Saudi Arabia was struggling to support the extremist factions in order not to remain back from rivalry of Iran that supported the Northern Alliance. Most of Saudi religious school graduates had joined the Taliban terrorist group. The Taliban who have strict interpretation of Islam have committed many crimes such as destruction of a human heritage (the Bamiyan Buddha), or massacring the civilians in Mazar-i-Sharif or elsewhere in the country.
After 1979, Iran also sought to expand its religious beliefs to swell its influence among moderate jihadist groups. When the Taliban came to power, Iran supported Taliban opponents in Afghanistan and considered the Taliban as a terrorist group. The relationship between Afghanistan and Iran during the Taliban, especially after the killing of Iranian diplomats by Taliban in Mazar-i-Sharif, was blurred until the brink of war. After the 9/11 incident, Iran attempted to overthrow the Taliban regime, and even there were the signs that the United States and Iran might proceed to normalize their relationships because of having common enemies such as Taliban and al-Qaeda, but Bush’s famous speech in 2002 when called Iran one of malevolence axes in the world, made Iran to resume its previous stance.
During the reign of Hamid Karzai, Iran was in close contact with the Afghan government, as there were reports that President Karzai’s office was had receiving cash money from the Iranian government. Late during the presidency of Hamid Karzai and the intensification of the Iranian nuclear crisis with the West, the Taliban appeared to have support of Iran. However, from the political points of view, this does not seem strange because the Taliban and Iran both are in the same position.
Until recently, Iran denied having relationship with the Taliban, but in the Moscow summit Iran toned down and helped the Taliban to be accepted as a political actor in Afghanistan and also in the region.  After the Moscow summit, another meeting was held in Abu Dhabi, somewhat anti-Iran (Saudi Arabia-UAE). A few days after of the meeting, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spoke person Abbas Araghchi, who later traveled to Kabul conveyed the message of the Taliban to the Afghan government, while also strived to highlight Iran’s role in the Afghan peace process.
One of other professing leaders in the Muslim world is Turkey that recently joined the queue to host the Afghan peace process in the near future. Now we can say that Tehran, Riyadh and Ankara are trying not to drop behind from the regional competition because each of them are the professing leaders  of the Islamic world;  in the Middle East, each of them is considered the as main actor of war and peace.  However, any kind of efforts aimed to bring peace in Afghanistan should be welcomed but for some reasons it can be said that the intervention of these three countries can complicate the peace process in Afghanistan:
First, each of these countries is somehow involved in the conflicts of the entire Middle East, and so it can be said that these countries are part of the problem, not a solution. Second, all three countries are blamed for producing fundamentalism; so, can they help the peace process in Afghanistan that has suffered from terrorism and fundamentalism for many years? Third, as these countries compete with each other, when one of them makes constructive efforts in the peace process it would be challenged by the rest as they would think it may endanger their influence and interests in the region.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of Afghan government to take leadership of all peace-building meetings and not allow any third country to invite the Taliban for peace talks. As much as Taliban is introduced less dangerous in the world, the peace process will become more complicated because the Taliban are not flexible in accepting democracy and human rights. When in the nineties, when the international community left Afghanistan alone and did not regard the Taliban as a threat to humanity, as a result, we witnessed numerous crimes by this group in Afghanistan, we may witness the same in the future.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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