December 26, 2016
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Top Foreign Ministry officials from China, Pakistan and Russia will meet in Moscow on Tuesday to review what they perceive as a “gradually growing” threat to their frontiers posed by Islamic State extremists in Afghanistan.
“This is an existing forum for undertaking informal discussions on issues of regional peace and stability, including the situation in Afghanistan,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria told VOA.
Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhry, will lead Islamabad’s delegation, he added. Officials say future meetings could include Iran.
Chinese, Pakistani and Russian officials say they were driven to joint action by the efforts of IS affiliates to establish a foothold in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government has reportedly questioned the motives of the trilateral dialogue, which will take place without Kabul being represented.
Russian officials maintain the “working group on Afghanistan” is one of several initiatives Moscow has undertaken with regional countries, including Afghanistan, to develop a “wider partnership” for containing IS influence.
Beijing, Islamabad and Moscow say the three-way talks will also explore ways to bring the Taliban to the table for peace talks with the Afghan government. All three governments maintain overt contacts with the insurgent group.
Russia and officials in Pakistan argue that military operations by the U.S.-led international forces and their Afghan partners have not weakened the Taliban but instead created ungoverned areas where terrorist groups like IS, also known as Daesh, can establish a foothold.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told the U.N. Security Council last week that the deteriorating security situation has encouraged IS militants fleeing Syria and Iraq to look at Afghanistan for shelter. He said they will eventually pose a threat to Russia through neighboring central Asian states.
Using another acronym for IS, he said, “There is also information about the presence in Afghanistan of ISIL camps and safe harbors where people from central Asian states and northern Caucasus republics are being trained and where 700 terrorist families from Syria have already arrived.”
Churkin again rejected Afghan and U.S. concerns that Moscow’s overt ties to the Taliban are meant to undermine international efforts aimed at establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan.
“Our contacts with representatives of Taliban are limited to the task of providing for the security of Russian nationals in Afghanistan and also aimed at moving the Taliban towards joining with the process of national reconciliation,” he said.
Pakistani officials say Russia is eager to include Iran in future meetings of the tripartite “working group” and that the issue will be taken up at Tuesday’s meeting. Iran borders both Afghanistan and Iraq, where IS is present, and is fighting Islamist insurgents among other anti-regime forces in Syria.
While U.S. counterterrorism forces in partnership with Afghan forces have conducted major operations against IS fighters, the Taliban have also engaged in clashes with the rival group to deny it space in Afghanistan. Russian officials say they are developing ties with the Taliban to prevent IS influence from spreading into Afghan border provinces.
Washington and Kabul point out that Afghan security forces have effectively prevented the Taliban from overrunning any urban center during this year’s fighting, despite repeated assaults in northern, southern and eastern Afghanistan.
The U.S. commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, earlier this month voiced concern over what he called “overt legitimacy” being granted the Taliban by Russia and neighboring Iran.
“Their [Russia’s] narrative goes something like this: That the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government.And of course the Afghan government and the U.S. counterterrorism effort are the ones achieving the greatest effect against Islamic State,” Nicholson said.
He said the public legitimacy Russia has lent to the Taliban is “not helpful,” arguing that, “It is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents.”
Afghan and U.S. officials also charge that Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban and militants of the Haqqani terrorist network are prolonging the war and have helped the insurgents extend their influence in Afghanistan since most international combat troops left the country about two years ago.
Islamabad rejects the allegations as baseless and insists it is promoting Afghan peace and stability by acting to ensure stability in Pakistan, which shares a porous 2,600-kilometer border with the strife-torn country.
“It is self-defeating to cover up failures in Afghanistan by leveling allegations against Pakistan,” said Pakistani Foreign Secretary Chaudhry in an interview with state-run television ahead of Tuesday’s talks in Moscow.