Op-Ed: U.S. turns down invitation to Russian meeting on Afghanistan

Posted Apr 16, 2017 by Ken Hanly
Even though the U.S. was invited to a meeting on Afghanistan on Friday, it did not attend. The meeting in Moscow was aimed at facilitating peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb has a blast yield equivalent to 11 tons of TNT
The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb has a blast yield equivalent to 11 tons of TNT
The decision is just one more sign of the deteriorating relationship between the US and Russia. The meeting came just after the U.S. had dropped the Mother of All Bombs(MOAB) on a cave complex occupied by Islamic State fighters in a mountainous area near the border with Pakistan. The caves were apparently built with the help of the CIA during the battle against a Soviet-backed Afghan regime. The former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was highly critical of the bombing in a tweet: "This is not the war on terror, but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons." However, the present president, Ashraf Ghani said that the bombing was part of a joint operation between Afghan and international troops and were extra cautious in avoiding any civilian casualties.
The Moscow meeting was attended by senior diplomats from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and several ex-Soviet central Asian nations. In a statement all supported the Afghan government's peace efforts. They urged the Taliban to stop fighting and engage in a dialogue with the Afghan government. A U.S. State Department spokesperson, Mark Toner, said skepticism about the aims of the conference was the reason for the US not attending: "I think just to end it, we just felt that these talks - it was unclear to us what the purpose was. It seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region that we felt wasn't constructive at this time." Toner did say, however, that the US did plan to work with Russia and other key regional stakeholders to enhance dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban. This makes no sense. All the other key stakeholders were at the Moscow meeting including Afghan diplomats and were discussing how to have peace talks with the Taliban.
The real aim of staying away, it would seem, is to refuse to attend a meeting led by Russia. This is just another sign of the worsening relationship between the US and Russia. The U.S. bombing of a Syrian airbase to punish the Assad government has already increased tension between Russia and the U.S. The bombing was made without UN authorization, before any independent investigation had been carried out into the chemical incident in northern Syria. The US, France, the UK and others blame the attack on Assad but Russia and Assad deny being involved. As a recent Digital Journal article points out there are many competing narratives still and there has been no independent investigation yet. Russia vetoed the most recent resolution on the issue in the UN. The motion was presented by the US, UK and France all of whom have already blamed Assad. The veto was discussed in a recent Digital Journal article.
The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the deteriorating relationship. After the meeting, Tillerson said that U.S.-Russia relations were at a low point. Nevertheless, the U.S. made no attempt to help improve relationships by at least taking part in these talks attended by representatives of all neighboring states.
The Russians have had contact with the Taliban. Experts agree that the Taliban need to participate in peace talks to reach a lasting peace. NATO is accusing Russia of supporting the Taliban with weapons. This would be ironic as the U.S. previously supported Islamic rebel groups against a Soviet-backed Afghan government back when the USSR was the Evil Empire. Like the Phoenix, the Evil Empire appears to be returning from the ashes of the Soviet Union. The fact that senior Afghan diplomats attended the Moscow meeting shows that the Afghans are unwilling to snub Russia as the US has done. One of the main reasons for an inability to come to a peace agreement with the Taliban is that they demand that all foreign troops leave the country before any talks. They also want some detained Taliban members to be released.