It was confirmed that the restoration of the nuclear agreement to its original balanced configuration is the only correct way to ensure the rights and interests of all parties involved, stressing the importance of the deal.
Russia supports the start of Iran’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) membership process, which has been submitted for approval to the SCO Council of Heads of State. The country plays an important role in Eurasia and Iran’s SCO accession will undoubtedly contribute to enhancing the organization’s international authority, Putin emphasized.
Moscow has voiced concerns over signals coming from Western capitals on the need to use political leverage on Tehran in order to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), this is the wrong logic to employ, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said. The face-to-face talks between Iran and the international “group of five” (Russia, the UK, Germany, China, and France) have been underway in Vienna since April in order to revive the Iranian nuclear deal in its initial form, through lifting Washington’s sanctions against Iran.
Russia, Iran and China will hold joint maritime exercises in the Gulf around late 2021 or early 2022, Russia’s ambassador to Tehran said. The drills involving naval vessels from the three countries will be focused on shipping security and combating piracy.
It’s Time To Create An Afghan-Central Asian Connectivity Platform
20 AUGUST 2021
The most important outcome of last month’s virtual Afghan-Central Asian Foreign Ministers meeting was “the need to create a political framework that would strengthen cooperation between these countries in various fields”, which should be prioritized as soon as possible so as to advance their shared goal of facilitating transregional connectivity.
The Afghan Embassy in Turkmenistan’s monthly newsletter for July 2021 contained an important tidbit of information that escaped the attention of most regional observers. This was the outcome of last month’s virtual Afghan-Central Asian Foreign Ministers meeting, which was co-hosted by Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia (UNRCCA). The newsletter described this event as “the first format at the level of Foreign Ministers to discuss the peace process, economic development, regional security, and the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.” According to the Afghan Embassy in Turkmenistan, “The Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan and Central Asia stressed the need to create a political framework that would strengthen cooperation between these countries in various fields.”
It’s this reasonable outcome that should be prioritized as soon as possible so as to advance those countries’ shared geo-economic goal of facilitating transregional connectivity. Mid-July’s conference in Tashkent on Central Asia-South Asia connectivity saw all participants – which included representatives from China, Russia, and the US – agreeing on the importance of this vision. Immediately thereafter, the US announced the formation of a “New Quad” between itself, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan focused specifically on integration. All regional stakeholders including those four countries are most directly interested in February’s agreement to built a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway, which is regarded as the most realistic means to this connectivity end.
PAKAFUZ isn’t the only relevant transregional corridor proposal even though it’s arguably the most promising. The China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCAWEC) is another one, though this plan’s exact route is vaguely defined at the present moment, as is the eastern branch of the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) from the Indian-controlled Iranian port of Chabahar that aims to connect to those countries too. Some observers also expect that China’s recent modernization of eastern Tajikistan’s highway network is premised on the plan of eventually pioneering what can tentatively be called a “Persian Corridor” for connecting those two and Afghanistan with Beijing’s new 25-year strategic partners in Iran. Finally, there’s the Lapis Lazuli Corridor (LLC) between Afghanistan and Turkey via Turkmenistan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Seeing as how these five potential corridors all transit through Afghanistan and Central Asia, it’s sensible for them to want “to create a political framework that would strengthen cooperation between these countries in various fields”, particularly with respect to their shared geo-economic goal of facilitating transregional connectivity. Whatever this structure ends up being called, it should only include those six countries as formal members while allowing other stakeholders like China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and the US to participate as observers. This would enable Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics (CAR) to avoid being overshadowed by those much larger countries and thus inadvertently risk becoming objects of International Relations instead of remaining independent subjects like they presently are.
Each of those much larger countries already have some level of institutionalized connectivity cooperation with Afghanistan and the CARs which justifies their participation as observers in the proposed platform. The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) brings together those six countries, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, while China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) does the same with those six and the People’s Republic. The US’ C5+1 framework is the basis for its relations with Central Asia, while its “New Quad” includes the PAKAFUZ countries. Finally, the Ashgabat Agreement consists of India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan while Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) includes Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
With these observations in mind, there shouldn’t be anything controversial about Afghanistan and the CARs coming together to create their own integration platform for facilitating transregional connectivity so long as they invite China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and the US to participate as observers. Each of those seven much larger countries should understand their six partners’ concerns about being overshadowed by their formal membership in this group. All of them should therefore support their implementation of last month’s proposal since the resultant structure could also become the platform through which each of them more effectively interface with those countries. Hopefully some tangible progress can be achieved in this respect very soon since such an outcome would advance everyone’s geo-economic interests.
Will India & Iran Ally With Kabul Against The Taliban?
9 AUGUST 2021
Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s visit to Tehran to attend Iranian President Raisi’s inauguration saw the Islamic Republic’s new leader praise India’s role in establishing security in Afghanistan, which might signal that those two are considering allying with Kabul against the Taliban to an as-yet undefined extent.
Indian-Iranian relations have seen their fair share of ups and downs over the past few years, especially after New Delhi loyally abided by its new Washington ally’s unilateral sanctions regime against Tehran, but their ties might soon improve judging by Iranian President Raisi’s latest remarks about the role that they can both play in establishing security in Afghanistan. The Islamic Republic’s new leader met with Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar who traveled to the Tehran to attend his inauguration. According to the English-language version of the official Twitter account of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
“[President Raisi] stressed the importance of close cooperation and coordination between the two countries in developing peace and stability in the region, and said, ‘#Iran and India can play a constructive and useful role in ensuring security in the region, especially Afghanistan, and Tehran welcomes the New Delhi’s role in establishment of security in #Afghanistan. The fate of Afghanistan must be decided by the Afghans themselves, and we believe that if the Americans do not sabotage the situation, this issue will be resolved quickly.’”
It’s noteworthy that India and Iran are voluntarily excluded from the Extended Troika on Afghanistan consisting of Russia, Pakistan, China, and the US due to the former’s unwillingness to publicly talk to the Taliban (which Moscow requires as a precondition for participating) and the latter’s well-known ideological and political disagreements with the US. This places them in a similar strategic situation with respect to the Afghan peace process and thus sets the stage for them to work more closely together in advancing their shared interests in this conflict so long as Tehran has the political will to do so.
It’s unlikely that they’d be able to pull a page from the 1990s-era playbook by arming anti-Taliban groups since that organization controls a significant share of Afghanistan’s borders. Even so, President Raisi’s praise of India’s “constructive and useful role in ensuring security in the region, especially Afghanistan” hints that his principalist (“conservative”) government might surprisingly allow Indian overflights through Iranian airspace in order to continue militarily supplying Kabul and its anti-Taliban allies despite Tehran previously hosting the Taliban as recently as last month for peace talks.
After all, that’s the only relevant role that India is playing “in (the) establishment of security in Afghanistan.” At the same time, however, President Raisi also predicted that “if the Americans do not sabotage the situation, this issue will be resolved quickly.” What’s so curious about his second remark is that it can also be interpreted as suggesting that Iran might not allow Indian overflights through its airspace for that purpose since the internationally recognized Afghan government is also officially an American ally. In other words, that exact scenario might arguably contribute to US efforts to “sabotage the situation” and thus prove counterproductive.
In other words, Iran is employing its stereotypical strategic ambiguity honed from millennia of diplomatic practice in order to confuse its target audience, which in this case consists of the US & India on one side and Russia & Pakistan on the other. The message intended for the first pair is that Iran is flexible with its foreign policy and wouldn’t mind indirectly aiding their anti-Taliban efforts in exchange for a much-needed pressure valve from Washington’s unilateral sanctions regime. In practice, this could take the form of the US lifting some of those restrictions in parallel with India investing more in the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC).
As for second targeted pair of countries, Iran intends for them to receive this message as well so that they compete with the first pair in offering the Islamic Republic the most enticing incentives to abstain from that course of action. It shouldn’t be forgotten that although Iran recently hosted the Taliban, Tehran still deeply distrusts the group after it murdered nearly a dozen of its diplomats in 1998 and is accused of abusing Afghanistan’s majority-Shiite Hazara minority. Whereas the US and India can offer Iran economic incentives, Russia and Pakistan can perhaps counter with political and security ones connected to that conflict’s outcome.
The stance of Iran’s new 25-year Chinese strategic partners doesn’t seem to have been factored into the country’s deliberately ambiguous messaging regarding this scenario. The People’s Republic is against any perpetuation of the Afghan Civil War, especially that which is externally driven such as what India and Iran might be contemplating with a wink from the US, but it’s also unable to stop Tehran if it commits to doing this. China would prefer to most directly connect with Iran via the “Persian Corridor” through Tajikistan and Afghanistan, but this route could just be replaced with W-CPEC+ if made unviable in that scenario.
Of course, China could also informally dangle certain investment incentives to encourage Iran to move away from that scenario such as promising to accelerate the start of certain projects in exchange for ignoring India’s presumably US-approved Afghan-directed security outreaches, but it’s unclear whether that’ll happen. For this reason, it’s difficult at this moment to predict exactly what Iran’s new government will do since there are pros and cons to each course of action. Ideally, Russia and Pakistan would ensure Iran’s political and security interests in post-war Afghanistan, the US would lift the sanctions, and India would invest more in the NSTC.
That’s unrealistic to expect, though, so Iran will likely have to commit to one of those two scenarios. It can either facilitate India’s presumably US-approved “establishment of security in Afghanistan” by approving New Delhi’s overflights through its airspace to militarily supply Kabul and its anti-Taliban allies, or it can ensure that this doesn’t happen (or scale back and ultimately stop if it it’s already going on like some suspect). The second course of action is arguably the best for regional stability but Iran’s economy is really struggling right now so its new principalist (“conservative”) government might be tempted to seriously consider India’s speculative plan.
The Diplomatic Dynamics Of The Afghan Peace Process Are Challenging
8 AUGUST 2021
The perfect storm for another regional humanitarian crisis is brewing with unpredictable consequences for all stakeholders. The situation doesn’t seem like it’ll improve anytime soon considering the challenging dynamics.
The Afghan peace process is at a pivotal point ahead of the upcoming Doha talks and the US’ planned military withdrawal from the country by the end of the month. The Extended Troika comprised of both warring Afghan parties, America, China, Pakistan, and Russia is the premier platform for facilitating this process. Russian Special Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov earlier invited India to participate but only on the condition that it has influence over the two warring Afghan parties. Since New Delhi thus far refuses to enter into public talks with the Taliban, it’s unable to join the Extended Troika. Mr. Kabulov also recently expressed regret that Iran declined to participate as well due to its well-known ideological and political differences with the US.
The Extended Troika’s non-Afghan parties are in favor of a compromise solution to the country’s conflict, but they differ over the details. Russia has recently come along to embracing Pakistan’s long-held proposal for an interim government where power is shared between Kabul and the Taliban. Moscow’s decision is predicated on its calculation that the Taliban are too powerful to ignore, no longer embrace international terrorism despite still being designated as a terrorist group by the Russian authorities, and could advance the country’s regional security interests if it fights against ISIS-K and other such groups. The US, for its part, supports a vague compromise between both parties, as does China. All four countries have growing political ties to the Taliban.
These diplomatic dynamics pose challenges for the Afghan peace process. India’s and Iran’s voluntary exclusion from the Extended Troika due to their respective policies is unfortunate since the former has significant economic stakes in Afghanistan and is very close to Kabul while the latter has serious security and socio-cultural ties there which could be leveraged to exert positive influence over the peace process. The general trend of the Extended Troika’s non-Afghan members favoring some sort of compromise to the country’s conflict also puts pressure on Kabul, which while still talking to some members of the Taliban, continues to insist that the group is a terrorist organization that’s also supported by similar such foreign groups.
The impending American military withdrawal was a game-changer and came unexpectedly for many. Observers predicted that US President Joe Biden wouldn’t go along with his predecessor Donald Trump’s plan to leave Afghanistan after his country’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban. The incumbent surprised many by his decision, which he claims was due to simple pragmatism even though some suspect that it’s really driven by a desire to redeploy the US’ military forces to the Asia-Pacific for the purpose of more effectively containing China. Whatever the real motivations might be, this move emboldened the Taliban, which has been on a nationwide offensive over the past few months even though Russia regards it as “running out of steam”.
Officially speaking, neither Kabul nor the Taliban are in favor of a military solution to the war, but some doubt the latter’s sincerity after its recent offensive and the alleged war crimes that it’s accused of committing during the course of this ongoing campaign. Still, others have a point in claiming that the Taliban would be unable to take control of Afghanistan’s main cities and hold them. It appears as though the group is trying to increase its leverage ahead of the upcoming Doha talks, perhaps by placing itself in a position to wage siege warfare against some cities so as to pressure Kabul into complying with its political demands to grant it what US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad recently described as “the lion’s share of power”.
Given the historical precedent established during the 1990s, there are widespread concerns that the return of Taliban rule to Afghanistan whether in whole or in part depending on the details of whatever compromise agreement might possibly be reached could lead to a rollback in human rights among women and minorities. Nevertheless, the international community at large doesn’t seem willing to do much to ensure their safety, which puts additional pressure on Kabul. Compounded with the on-the-ground consequences of the US’ military withdrawal, Russia’s embrace of Pakistan’s plan for an interim government, and India’s and Iran’s voluntary exclusion from the Extended Troika, the overall trend is tilting in favor of the Taliban.
Under these conditions, Kabul might ultimately be forced to compromise more on its interests than it had intended to. Any lopsided peace deal would further embolden the Taliban with time and likely pave the way for its eventual return to power, which might provoke further conflict within the country from disaffected groups who fear a return to the brutal 1990s. Unlike then, however, it’ll be difficult for foreign forces to support anti-Taliban armed groups because of the organization’s newly established control over some key border crossings. Its cautious welcoming into the international community also suggests that few want to perpetuate the conflict and are instead reconciling themselves ahead of time with recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political force.
Whether it intended to or not, the US has made everything even more difficult for average Afghans who want to flee from their homeland in the face of such an uncertain future by promulgating a policy whereby it’ll only process such resettlement requests from third countries. The perfect storm for another regional humanitarian crisis is brewing with unpredictable consequences for all stakeholders. The situation doesn’t seem like it’ll improve anytime soon considering the challenging dynamics. To the contrary, it appears set to worsen, especially given the trust deficit between Kabul and the Taliban as well as the Extended Troika’s tacit support for the latter. Everything seems to hinge on whether or not the Taliban will behave responsibly as promised.
Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said it had fired a barrage of rockets at Israeli positions in a disputed area close to the Lebanese border, calling it retaliation for Israeli airstrikes on southern Lebanon a day earlier. It was the third day of cross-border hostilities that threaten a period of calm prevailing since 2006, when Israel and Hezbollah fought a one-month war.
The Extended Troika Is Incomplete Without India & Iran But It’ll Still Manage
5 AUGUST 2021
India’s and Iran’s refusal to participate in the Extended Troika on Afghanistan alongside Russia, Pakistan, China, and the US due to New Delhi’s reluctance to publicly talk to the Taliban and Tehran’s disagreements with Washington means that this peacemaking structure will always remain incomplete even though it’ll still likely manage to accomplish most of its goals without them.
The Extended Troika comprised of Russia, Pakistan, China, and the US is arguably the world’s most important peacemaking structure at the moment considering the pivotal role that it’s playing in shaping the future of Eurasia upon the US’ military withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of August. These four countries are coordinating their efforts to facilitate a political solution to the ongoing Afghan Civil War even if their interactions are imperfect and a tangible outcome has yet to be achieved. All four of them are finally on the same page with respect to their shared geo-economic vision for post-war Afghanistan related to the landlocked country functioning as the irreplaceable transit state for advancing Central Asia-South Asia connectivity.
Russia hoped that India and Iran would also join this structure due to the stakes that they have in Afghanistan’s future, but this has yet to happen due to New Delhi’s reluctance to publicly talk to the Taliban (which is a precondition for participation) and Tehran’s disagreements with Washington. This means that the Extended Troika will always remain incomplete. India will consequently have difficulty ensuring and expanding its entrenched economic interests in Afghanistan just like Iran will struggle to do the same as well as defend its security interests there too. By voluntarily declining to take a seat at the table where all relevant stakeholders are determining this interconnected region’s future, India and Iran are depriving themselves of opportunities.
In their leaderships’ minds, they’re apparently prioritizing optics over substance after calculating – whether rightly or wrongly – that it’s better to maintain their images than risk the potential soft power consequences connected with backtracking on their present policies of pertinence. To explain, India wants to show the world that it’s consistently opposed to the Taliban, which its Hindu nationalist government insists its an irredeemable terrorist group. Iran, meanwhile, doesn’t want to discuss anything with the US even in a multilateral framework until bilateral ties first improve since it’s concerned that doing otherwise might project an image of weakness when it comes to the nuclear talks and other seemingly more pressing issues for it such as Gulf security.
The emerging situation is such that India’s and Iran’s voluntary decisions to remain outside the Extended Troika place them in a position to act as spoilers to the Afghan peace process. Nevertheless, the likelihood of them successfully perpetuating the ongoing civil war there for any significant length of time is low. That’s because the Taliban controls a sizeable length of the country’s borders, Iran’s new principalist (“conservative”) government might also understandably feel uncomfortable facilitating the Indian Air Force’s overflights through its airspace to continually resupply US-backed Kabul, and New Delhi might rightly wager that the expected costs of such a campaign far outweigh the expected benefits. Even so, this is a scenario that shouldn’t be totally dismissed.
Part of the reason why Russia presumably wanted both of them to participate in the Extended Troika was to reduce the chances of this happening. If India and Iran felt empowered by this peacemaking structure and were confident that it could most effectively ensure their respective interests, then they’d be less likely to speculatively contemplate various ways to unilaterally (or perhaps even jointly with one another) promote their goals at others’ possible expense. Regrettably, neither of their leaderships want to risk the potential soft power consequences connected with backtracking on their present policies of pertinence. So long as they don’t meddle in Afghanistan, though, then none of the Extended Troika’s members have much to worry about.
In the event that one or both of them end up doing something disruptive, then they might worsen their ties with all four of that peacemaking structure’s members. The US might not be too concerned for the short term, especially if India’s responsible for stirring up trouble, since such a development would temporarily offset its Russian and Chinese rivals’ connectivity plans though as at the expense of America’s own. Be that as it may, the US can strategically afford to delay the Central Asia-South Asia integration process for the time being since the interim period of uncertainty would be more counterproductive to those two’s interests than its own, but this destabilizing scenario would still stand no choice of materializing if India and Iran joined the Extended Troika.
Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed to boost political and economic relations with Latin American states, as a top priority for his country’s foreign policy. “Undoubtedly, activating the level of cooperation between Iran and Latin American countries can make the Americans and other arrogant people passive,” he stressed.