The preclusion of President Ashraf Ghani’s ‘democratically elected and internationally recognized’ administration from the peace talks portends no good for the country’s future, and raises questions about the legitimacy of the process. President Ghani has in the past tried and failed to entice Taliban into negotiations by promising various concessions. As such, being left out of the dialogue between the U.S. and the Taliban which could lead to a ‘premature U.S. pullout’, goes against President Ghani’s efforts for promoting the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process, especially at a time when he’s been seeking U.S. support for holding the upcoming presidential elections in July. With limited and brittle control over a State rampant with corruption and inefficiency, the Ghani administration runs on life support fueled by western military and economic aid. In such a backdrop, President Ghani’s relevancy to the future political set-up of Afghanistan would depend largely on his ability to restore peace and order. Another potent threat to sustainable peace in Afghanistan and the region as a whole has emerged in form of Daesh, also known as the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K). The group is often viewed as the ‘most uncompromising and ideologically-driven’. Though relatively small, its propensity to create geopolitical instability, and spread violence and hatred could make the reconciliation process in Afghanistan harder to achieve. The group has been critical of the US-Taliban peace talks, and it is believed that if the outcome of the peace talks do not adequately represent the needs and wishes of the Taliban fighters, there could be an exodus into IS-K. The general consensus is that without regional cooperation peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive. However, ironically, it is the conflicting interests of regional countries that pose real challenge to a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. US military drawdown would weaken the Government in Kabul both militarily and economically and would affect its ability to hold back the forays of the Taliban. In such a scenario, the role of neighbouring Pakistan and Iran would be important. Whereas both the countries realise that a chaotic Afghanistan would breed extremism and terrorism and will lead to the rise of Islamic militancy within their own frontiers, they have major interests in Afghanistan and would not like to cede their influence. Both the countries have their favourites which they have long supported, because of their strategic interests. Pakistan favours Pashtuns, while Iran is known to have close links to Tajiks and Shia Hazaras. Another potent threat to sustainable peace in Afghanistan and the region as a whole has emerged in form of Daesh, also known as the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K). The group is often viewed as the ‘most uncompromising and ideologically-driven’. Though relatively small, its propensity to create geopolitical instability, and spread violence and hatred could make the reconciliation process in Afghanistan harder to achieve Furthermore, although Iran, and India, supported the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban in the 1990s, the former has since established closer ties with Taliban, albeit without severing relations with the Afghan Government. According to western media, Iran’s Al Quds force has been supplying weapons to the Taliban. The current regional dynamics are such that Iran not only favours U.S. withdrawal, but it also wants a stable Afghanistan, all the while being wary of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as such a scenario could potentially increase Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan. Iran is, thus, reportedly active in facilitating negotiations between the Taliban and the country’s government, while according to a recent report, simultaneously offering to reconcile differences between the Taliban and India. Hence as a possible endgame in Afghanistan nears, Iran is trying to emerge as a ‘charioteer of peace and reconciliation’ in the region. India’s interests in Afghanistan are more or less Pakistan-specific. It considers Afghanistan as an outpost to monitor Pakistan and to stoke insurgency in Baluchistan. It is therefore, keenly interested in forging a strong partnership with Afghanistan. It has generously invested in Afghanistan, in industrial, irrigation, and hydroelectric projects. India has consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif, in addition to its embassy in Kabul. Pakistan views with concern India’s growing relations with Afghanistan ‘as part of New Delhi’s strategic encirclement policy that would leave (Pakistan) vulnerable in any potential conflict’. The complexity of the relationship between Pakistan and India in the context of Afghanistan is such that it has been described as the new ‘great game.’ An important recent development has been the Moscow talks organized by ‘the Afghan diaspora in Russia’. Besides Taliban, the gathering included Hamid Karzai leading a delegation of former officials, representatives of political parties and members of Parliament. The ‘intra-Afghan peace meeting,’ much to the chagrin of Ashraf Ghani excluded the Afghan government. In response to skeptics who view the event as Moscow’s ‘attempts to increase its influence over the Afghan peacemaking space,’ Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, stated that the U.S. was trying to ‘monopolize peace talks with the Taliban and was conducting talks in secrecy while keeping regional countries in the dark.’ What remains undisputed, is that central to peace in Afghanistan is the cooperation of Pakistan. Long accused of opposing peace initiatives, Pakistan facilitated the talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, and also extended full support for intra-Afghan dialogue. Instability in Afghanistan has afflicted Pakistan economically, it has militarised and radicalised the social set up of the country. Pakistan, would benefit economically from a stable Afghanistan, it therefore, needs to work closely with Afghanistan to build a roadmap for comprehensive and multi-faceted cooperation. Together, they need a collaborative approach to the common problem of terrorism, especially cross-border operations. The Afghan peace process is still in its early stage, but it is hoped that it will pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue that could potentially heal old wounds and achieve reconciliation. However, much will depend on Taliban’s willingness, as well as their capacity to deliver on a deal. Going by their public pronouncements, Taliban seems to be earnest about peace and so are the other stakeholders in this war-torn country, but these are still the early gains and going by history, such gains are reversible so let’s not don the party hats just yet. The writer is a former Ambassador Published in Daily Times, March 2nd 2019.