Moscow meeting underlines key US role in Afghanistan
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 16, 2017
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan representatives at a meeting of regional powers in Moscow welcomed their involvement in negotiating an end to the 16-year war but underscored America’s “essential role” in Afghanistan’s future.
The United States and other members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan were not invited to the conference, which was aimed at devising a solution to a conflict that has been increasingly affecting neighboring nations.
Afghanistan’s representative at the talks, M. Ashraf Haidari, told diplomats from Iran, Pakistan, India, China and Russia that Kabul would welcome “any genuine efforts” by its neighbors to foster peace.
But he said any new effort would be complementary and not a substitute for ongoing processes, including those in which the U.S. has been involved.
“The United States is one of our most important partners and has an essential role to play in all these and other processes that should end war and usher in sustainable peace in Afghanistan,” Haidari said.
Moscow has shifted to a more active role in Afghanistan over the past year, saying it fears that Islamic State militants and criminals, such as heroin traffickers, could exploit the unstable situation and threaten its national security.
But some critics claim Russia’s stepped-up activity, including Wednesday’s meeting, is aimed at extending its influence in the region and embarrassing the United States — which has yet to find a way to end its longest-ever war.
Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, told the TASS news agency that resuming talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government was the main focus of the Moscow meeting.
He described the talks as a “success” but said there was still “a long way to go” before any peace agreement in Afghanistan was reached.
TASS also quoted Kabulov as saying that Moscow would be open to the possibility of future U.S. participation in Russian-organized consultations.
Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, Gen. John Nicholson, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Russian involvement in Afghanistan was undermining NATO’s efforts there.