A group of Afghan officials led by the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, have made their way to Moscow for a one-day conference that will also include delegates from Russia, Pakistan, China, and the United States. But the conference, which is being marketed as a supplement to the Doha peace talks and a necessary step in the path forward for Afghanistan, is in fact, a kind of international auction. The sought-after prize? Access to the resource-rich regions of the war-torn country. The only question is who will be the highest bidder.

Overhanging the conference is the U.S. Peace Deal signed by former president Donald Trump which dictates that all U.S. troops must be removed from Afghanistan by May 1. Now, President Joe Biden has said that meeting the deadline is “tough” and suggested that an extension may be needed. 

“That was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president, the former president, worked out,” POTUS said in an interview with ABC News

But the truth of the matter is that after 20 years of U.S. investment in the country, Biden isn’t ready to cut bait and watch Pakistan, China, and Russia profit from it. That is likely why he has sent special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to participate in the Moscow Conference.

Of course, the Moscow Conference is being touted as a necessary political measure. Internal squabbling over control of the country has left Afghanistan — and Afghans — in a precarious purgatory akin to what transpired in the late 1990s when key warlords pitted against one another jousted for control of major cities including the capital Kabul. Tens of thousands of Afghans were killed in the ensuing violence. 

The old tensions are still very real. Nowhere is this more obvious than with Gulbuddin Hekmaytar, also known as the Butcher of Kabul. Hekmaytar is the leader of the eponymous  Hezb al-Islami Gulbuddin, a gaggle of Afghan commandos who fought for control of the country after the Soviet withdrawal in the 1980s. These fighters, spurred on by Hekmatyar, were largely responsible for the extensive bloody barrage of Kabul in the 1990s. But his fighters never acquired control of the country, and despite throwing in with al-Qaeda and sharing tactics and resources with Osama bin Laden, Hekmatyar never achieved his aspirations to rule over the country. 

It was Hekmatyar’s foot soldiers who attacked Combat Outpost Keating near Kamdesh in Nuristan province in 2009 that led to one of the bloodiest battles with insurgent forces in the history of Operation Enduring Freedom and resulted in the death of eight American soldiers.

On March 5, members of Hezb al-Islami Gulbuddin protested on the streets of Kabul with a list of demands. They threatened that if their demands weren’t met within 10 days, the protests would shift into direct action to remove the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Now, Hekmatyar is part of the delegation heading to Moscow to discuss the future of Afghanistan.