US Afghan Conference Moscow
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While, Nafees Zakaria, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson, confirmed on Friday that Pakistan will attend the multi-national peace conference about Afghanistan to be held in Moscow next month. An anonymous source from the US State department has confirmed that they won’t be attending.

This follows on from critical remarks given a day earlier by Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of the U.S. military’s European Command and the Supreme Allied Commander for NATO, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I’ve seen the influence of Russia of late, increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban”.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, Supreme Allied Commander for NATO told Senate, “I’ve seen the influence of Russia of late, increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban”.

Russia has dismissed these comments as a “lie” on Friday, saying the charge was an attempt by Washington to try to cover up for the failure of its own policies there. “These claims are absolutely false”, Zamir Kabulov, head of the Russian foreign ministry’s department responsible for Afghanistan and the Kremlin’s special envoy in the country, told RIA Novosti state news agency.

Read more: Pakistan warns US, Afghanistan could be the next Syria

The US State Department official said that Washington wants to work with Moscow on regional efforts including working on ending Afghanistan’s 16-year war, but they would wait for bilateral discussions between the two countries first. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson is expected to visit Russia in April.

Another reason for not attending the conference maybe because the Trump administration has not announced its policy on Afghanistan yet. However, there is no question, that the US delay and obfuscations are giving Russia the opportunity to take on a more important role in the region.

Russia has dismissed US allegations as a “lie” on Friday, saying the charge was an attempt by Washington to try to cover up for the failure of its own policies there.

General Votel and other senior US generals have called for an increase in the US forces based in Afghanistan. A call that has been welcomed by the Afghan government, who is under extreme pressure to hold on to their control of the country against the Taliban.

Citing a deadly attack this month on a military hospital in Kabul, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said Afghanistan needs U.S. help in addressing “military shortfalls” through increased training, ground and air capabilities, and reconnaissance and intelligence support.

Read more: Why does Pakistan need to revisit its Afghan policy & how?

Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Iran, India, and several Central Asian nations are among the invitees to the Moscow conference. It follows on from the earlier six country conference held in Moscow in February, also under Russian aegis. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the time had criticized the former Barack Obama administration for its position on the Afghan conflict and suggested that Russia would have better cooperation from the Trump administration.

The US delay and obfuscations are giving Russia the opportunity to take on a more important role in the region.

Pakistan has not yet decided on the level of participation but Nafees Zakaria assured of Pakistan’s desire for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. He went on to add that Pakistan believes in an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process, which will bring all factions, including the Taliban, to the negotiating table.

Last week, Pakistani officials hosted several Taliban leaders in Islamabad to try to press them into peace talks ahead of the Moscow meeting. Afghan government has confirmed that the Taliban will not be part of the April Conference.

Also watch this Dunya News discussion on the opening of Pak-Afghan border after the London Talks and the possible way forward on Afghanistan, and how Russian and Chinese inclusion in the peace process is diminishing the US and Indian options.

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