Russia steps in, trying to aid stalled Afghan peace process

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In this photo released by Inter Services Public Relations, Zamir Kabulov, left, Russia's President Vladimir Putin's special envoy on Afghanistan meets with Pakistan's Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, I Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Kabulov was in Pakistan, a key regional player in efforts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan's protracted war. During his unannounced visit , Kabulov met Pakistan's powerful army chief as well as the foreign minister. Few details came out of the meeting except that Afghanistan and getting to a peace deal dominated talks. Last month a delegation of the Taliban was in Moscow. (Inter Services Public Relations via AP)

ISLAMABAD – With talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban stalled and the new administration in Washington mulling its options, Russia is stepping up efforts to try and find a way forward in the peace process.

Moscow's emissaries have been making the rounds, visiting regional players and meeting officials and senior Taliban figures — even as a NATO ministerial conference this week concluded that there is no easy solution on how to end Afghanistan’s protracted war.

Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, was in Pakistan on Friday for talks with officials. Islamabad has been a key player with significant influence over the Taliban.

Also in Pakistan separately to meet with the powerful army chief was the U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie. Their agenda too was Afghanistan. While the statement following the meeting was vague, Pakistan is seen as key to getting the Taliban, whose leadership maintains homes and headquarters in Pakistan, to agree to a reduction in violence leading to an eventual cease-fire.

Washington and Kabul have been pressing for a cease-fire while the Taliban say they will negotiate it as part of peace talks with the Afghan government.

Under a February 2020 deal that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban, Washington committed to a May 1 withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan — which, after 20 years, has become America’s longest conflict.

President Joe Biden is now conducting a review of that deal, though the Taliban have warned that there would be no wiggle room on the deadline, threatening to restart the war with the U.S. and NATO if it's not met.

Since the U.S.-Taliban agreement was signed, the Taliban have kept their commitment not to attack NATO and U.S. troops but are relentlessly targeting Afghan forces, which have also been conducting operations against the insurgents. The spike in violence across Afghanistan is undermining any prospects of a tangible cease-fire.