Russia barred the U.S. from the Afghanistan peace conference held in Moscow on Wednesday, much to the consternation of Afghanistan. The peace conference was surrounded with public recriminations. Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran are on one side, and Afghanistan and India are on the other. Pakistan, Iran, and Russia have supported the Taliban, which is an insurgent organization that frequently uses terrorist tactics against civilian targets. China had direct talks with the Taliban last year, and its military vehicles have recently been spotted in Afghanistan. Russia says support of the Taliban will counter the Islamic State, which is the more dangerous foe. But such support will really just weaken the current elected government of Afghanistan, and its U.S. supporters, and give Russia a new client in the region. The U.S. should reconsider whether Russia can be trusted as a responsible ally against terrorism.
Russia disparages the elected government of Afghanistan as unwilling to fight Islamic State. At the conference last year, Russia only invited Pakistan and China. For Russia not to invite NATO members who have been most involved in trying to bring peace, development, democracy, and the rule of law to Afghanistan is insulting, but perhaps not surprising since Russia, and its ally China, oppose U.S. influence in the region. As the U.S. and its allies retreat from Afghanistan, Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan are trying to fill the resulting power vacuum by allying through the Taliban against not only Islamic State, but against the current democratically-elected government of Afghanistan. This will result in more Taliban influence in Kabul, and could hasten or even lead to the overthrow of the elected government.
That is unfortunate for the citizens of Afghanistan, who will lose their relatively secular government in exchange for more violence, the old fundamentalist Islamic government of the Taliban, or both. It will also be a very public failure of the U.S. and NATO. The Taliban are known for their opium trade, harsh laws against women, and blowing up of massive ancient Buddhist statues during their rule from 1996 to 2001. It is unfortunate that Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan prefer to side with the Taliban, rather than support the elected Afghan government.