From Asia Times
In the "graveyard of empires," Afghanistan never ceases to deliver geopolitical and historical twists. Last week in Moscow, another crucial chapter in this epic story was written when Russia pledged to use its diplomatic muscle to spur peace efforts in the war-torn country.
Flanked by Afghan representatives and their Taliban rivals, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov talked about "working together with Afghanistan's regional partners and friends who have gathered at this table."
"I am counting on you holding a serious and constructive conversation that will justify the hopes of the Afghan people," he said.
Back in the 1980s, Soviet Union president Zbigniew Brzezinski launched a disastrous war in the country. Thirty years later, Russia is now taking the lead role of mediator in this 21st-century version of the Great Game.
The line-up in Moscow was diverse.
Four members of the High Peace Council, which is responsible for attempting a dialogue with the Taliban, took part in the talks. Yet the Afghan foreign ministry went the extra mile to stress that the council does not represent the Afghan government.
Kabul and former Northern Alliance members, who form a sort of "protective" circle around President Ashraf Ghani, in fact refuse any dialogue with the Taliban, who were their mortal enemies up to 2001.
The Taliban for their part sent a delegation of five, although spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid was adamant there wouldn't be "any sort of negotiations" with Kabul. This was "about finding a peaceful solution to the issue of Afghanistan."
Diplomats in Pakistan confirm the Taliban will only negotiate on substantial matters after a deal is reached with the United States on a timetable for complete withdrawal.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stressed this was the first time a Taliban delegation had attended such a high-level international meeting. The fact that the Taliban is classified by Moscow as a "terrorist organization" makes it even more stunning.
Moscow also invited China, Pakistan, India, Iran, the five Central Asian "stans" and the US. Washington sent just a diplomat from the American Embassy in Moscow, as an observer. The new US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, widely known in the recent past as "Bush's Afghan," has not exactly made much progress in his meetings with Taliban officials in Qatar in the past few months.
India -- not exactly keen on a Pakistan-encouraged "Afghan-led peace" process -- sent an envoy at a "non-official level" and received a dressing down from Lavrov, along the lines of "Don't moan, be constructive."
Still, this was just the beginning. There will be a follow-up -- although no date has been set.Enduring so much freedom
Since the US bombing campaign and invasion of what was then Taliban-controlled Afghanistan 17 years ago, peace has proved elusive. The Taliban still has a major presence in the country and is essentially on a roll.