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Competing For Regional Power And Peace In Afghanistan

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This article originally appeared at Homeland411

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Homeland411

As the Unites States tries to break the long stalemate of war in Afghanistan, regional powers continue jockeying for position, attempting to carve out their own spheres of influence in the country.

A combination of fears over the Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch—Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)—and prospects of mineral wealth have pulled more of Afghanistan’s neighbors into its diplomatic network. Iran and Russia have boosted support for the Taliban, while both China and Uzbekistan are pouring more money into trade with the Central Asian country.

China might be poised to be the next regional power broker after years of dominance from Pakistan. While sprinkling trillions of dollars across Eurasia in their Belt and Road Initiative, Afghanistan may soon pick up more of their investment.

“China is viewed as a more credible regional player,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center.

In 2015, China offered to mediate peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. With the Chinese “all-weather friendship” with Pakistan, its interest in a stable Afghanistan only has grown.

Budding Diplomacy

Increased regional diplomacy comes at a time when the Unites States is working to jump-start peace talks with the Taliban. Through increased military pressure and direct outreach, the United States hopes to unglue the diplomatic love triangle that has dogged progress for years.

The Taliban demands to talk directly to the United States about a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The United States, until recently, has insisted that the Taliban talk directly with the Afghan government. And the Afghan government says it is ready to talk to the Taliban anywhere.

The White House recently instructed top U.S. diplomats to reach out directly to the Taliban to break the stalemate, The New York Times reported July 15.

“Even if the Taliban agree to talk, there is no reason to think there would be an agreement,” Kugelman said, “I remain skeptical about peace breaking out anytime soon.”

Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander officer of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, dismissed reports that the United States would be reaching out to the Taliban without the Afghan government.

“The Unites States is not a substitute for the Afghan government or the Afghan people,” he tweeted July 16.

Local Neighbors

Besides the major powers, smaller neighbors have a stake in Afghanistan’s peace and stability as well. Fears of ISKP continue to motivate support for the Taliban, as the two groups have clashed in the past. But Afghanistan hopes that increased trade and economic relationships will be more powerful than fear of roving insurgent groups.

“Security and economy are the two sides of the same coin,” said Fazulrahman Fazilyar, economic counselor at the Afghanistan embassy in Washington D.C.

Afghanistan’s neighbors want to protect their investments and ensure insurgents don’t spill over their borders, according to Fazilyar.

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