Friday’s ministerial meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, of the Istanbul Process will bring together representatives of 14 regional countries and 16 others to discuss efforts to stabilize Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 2014 withdrawal of Western forces from the country. As the drawdown nears, regional powers are growing increasingly worried. Russia, India, Pakistan and China recognize that the departure of Western forces could allow a resurgence of the Taliban, threatening Afghanistan’s economic and political development and spreading ripples of insecurity throughout the region.
Unfortunately, the Istanbul Process is focused on vague confidence-building measures, rather than concrete proposals for Afghan reconciliation. As a result, the mild panic over the approaching withdrawal has produced a flurry of dialogue mechanisms among Afghanistan’s neighbors. Representatives from Russia, India and China met in Moscow in February. This was followed by a Chinese-Russian-Pakistani trilateral meeting in early April in Moscow. In an important development, these engagements were followed by the creation of a parallel India-China bilateral dialogue to complement the other regional formulations. India and China met two weeks ago to discuss counterterrorism and Islamic militant groups. They held a follow-up meeting on April 18 focused on Afghanistan specifically, where both sides expressed their commitment to the Afghan reconciliation process as well as “working with regional countries and the international community to help Afghanistan achieve objectives of peace and stability, independence and development.”
These initial overtures toward regional security cooperation are a promising start. But beyond laying diplomatic markers, the meetings’ utility for advancing stability in Afghanistan is limited by their shifting membership. Avoiding a repeat of the 1990s, when these same powers allowed a destructive civil war to rage on inside Afghanistan, will require a more open and inclusive diplomatic and political forum that avoids excluding individual countries due to bilateral tensions.