Top-level Islamabad talks on the Future of Afghanistan

The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process conference is opening on the 9th of December in Islamabad. The Istanbul Process is region-led dialogue. It was launched in November when Foreign Ministers from 14 countries spanning from Central Asia to the Middle East South Asia, and South Asia to Eurasia gathered in Istanbul, Turkey to expand practical coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners in facing common threats, including counterterrorism, counternarcotic, poverty, and extremism.  The conference will see the participation of high-level representatives from the following countries: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Russian Federation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates. They all participate in the Heart of Asia Process. Also the US and the UK, alongside other western countries, support the initiative.

Strategic importance of Afghanistan

Afghanistan has always been a highly important region in terms of geopolitics for two centuries, guarding the way that links the Heartland with Hindustan and the Indian Ocean. For two centuries it was a stage of the famous Great Game between Russia and Great Britain, and lately between Russia and the US. Today it is the next point after Iraq and Syria where ISIS can gain power using an internal struggle in the Taliban movement combined with the weakness of the central government. 

Interests of the Gulf States and the US
All the participants and supporters of the Istanbul process are interested in Afghanistan, but their interests are conflicting.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE support the most radical Islamists in Afghanistan.  The Afghan branch of the Islamic State operates in their interests. 
Qatar for example is interested in the general destabilization of the situation, and preventing the construction of gas pipelines in the direction of Pakistan, India and China (the "Peace" pipeline from Iran and Turkmenistan –Afghanistan-Pakistan-Pipeline). The interests of Doha up to this point, coincide with the interests of Ankara which seeks to re-orientate gas flows from both Turkmenistan and Iran.
The US is interested in the continuation of instability in Afghanistan, so while Washington is supporting the negotiations process between the Taliban and the central government in words, in reality it aims to derail these.  Stabilization can make their support of the central government unnecessary. Some projects can become more realizable, ones they can diminish the American influence and see an increase in Russian and Chinese.
The US actions in Afghanistan should be understood in a broader context. The advance of radical Islamists in the Northern Afghanistan towards the CIS border can be perceived as a response of Americans and their allies from Persian Gulf to joint Russian-Iranian advance in Syria.
There is also a contradiction between Iranian and Saudi interests. Saudi Arabia can use its long-standing relations with Sunni-Islamists to hurt its biggest enemy in the Middle East - Iran. For many years it was one of the main sponsors of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the region. Current Saudi support to the radical branch of the Taliban and ISIS lead to the activation of radical Sunni-movements in eastern Iran, supported by Saudi Arabia too. There are Islamist militants in southwestern Sistan and Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Interests of Iran, India, China, Russia and Pakistan
Iran in its turn is interested in securitization of the region and construction of gas pipelines to China through Afghanistan and Pakistan. It includes a major part of its fragmented territory in its sphere of influence. Given its historic ethnic, linguistic and religious ties Iran have a basis to foster its influence. The Persian dialect (Dari) is dominating in western and northern parts of Afghanistan; also Afghanistan has a huge Shia-minority Khazara people who dwell in a compact part of the country's west.  For Iranians, Afghanistan is a part of a Greater Iran.
China wants to construct a new line of the "New Silk Road" through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The project directly contradicts US plans to contain China, and to continue pressure on Iran and control the region as a whole. Both Iran and China need a more stable Afghanistan that does not depend on US support.
Russia plans to construct an oil pipeline to India, through Afghanistan and Pakistan too. That indicates growing Russian influence in the region with access to the zone of the Indian Ocean. The project of meridional economic integration directly deters the old Atlanticist Anaconda Strategy toward Russia.
The probable oil pipeline undermines the economic interest of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It is the reason they are interesting in destabilizing the situation.
The Pakistani establishment is divided: one part continues the old pro-American Atlanticist Strategy. Among them many ISI Pakistani Intelligence Service officials, and another tries to take a new course orientated towards strengthening ties with China and Russia, and developing mutually profitable projects.
While China and the Chinese oriented part of the Pakistani establishment try to establish negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban with silent support of Russia, the Atlantic oriented part of Pakistani leadership encourages the radical part of  the Taliban to fight against their leadership and go to the ranks of the Islamic State.
The divergent interests of participants are unlikely to contribute to the success of the conference. However some steps can be made by Pakistan, China, India and Iran. The presence of foreign ministers of Pakistan, China, Iran and India will show the importance of Afghanistan for these countries. The visit of Ashraf Ghani, the actual Afghan President,  proves that the current Afghan leadership is going to improve its relations with Pakistan, which is necessary for the realization of Chinese,  Iranian, Indian and Russian plans. It is expected that Afghanistan and Pakistan will be pressured to settle a peace process with the Taliban.  
On the opposite side of the geopolitical game, possible outcomes are pursued very seriously. This fact is corroborated by the assassination attempt against the current Taliban  leader, Mullah Mansour, that took place last week. The last effort to start the talks was derailed by the death of Mullah Omar, the former spiritual head of the Taliban. The Atlanticist proxies will be used both in leadership of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as in the Taliban. The internal struggle within the movement between the moderate wing supported by Continentalist states, and radicals supported by American allies in the Gulf will continue.