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China, Pakistan and Russia to Meet in Moscow regarding Islamic State Extremists in Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's national unity government has reportedly questioned the motives of the trilateral dialogue

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FILE - Afghan police walk past Islamic State militant flags on a wall, after an operation in the Kot district of Jalalabad province east of Kabul, Aug. 1, 2016. China, Pakistan and Russia will meet in Moscow, Dec. 27. 2016, to review "gradual growing" threat of Islamic State from spreading beyond Afghanistan. VOA

Islamabad, December 27, 2016: 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.

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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.

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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.

File -Taliban suicide bombers stand guard during a gathering of a breakaway Taliban faction, in the border area of Zabul province, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2016. VOA

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.”

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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. (VOA)

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Pence Criticizes Europe For Iran, Venezuela, Russia Links

The atmosphere this year is one of apprehension, according to analyst Florence Gaub of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

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United States Vice President Mike Pence briefs the media during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. VOA

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence strongly criticized European allies Saturday for their stance on Iran and Venezuela, in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous, revolutionary regime. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” Pence told delegates.

He also called on allies to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. More than 20 European states have done so, but the European Union has stopped short of fully recognizing Guaido as president. Disputed president Nicholas Maduro is widely accused of vote-rigging to win last years’ election, while the country is mired in poverty and hyperinflation.

“Once more the Old World can take a strong stand in support of freedom in the New World. Today we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president of Venezuela,” Pence said.

China repeatedly was singled out by the vice president as a threat to the United States and its allies.

“The United States has also been very clear with our security partners on the threat posed by Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies, as Chinese law requires them to provide Beijing’s vast security apparatus with access to any data that touches their network or equipment.”

Pence repeated Washington’s calls for European NATO allies to do more to meet their military spending targets — and cautioned against developing economic links with Moscow, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline currently under construction between Russia and Germany.

United States Vice President Mike Pence delivers his speech during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019.
United States Vice President Mike Pence delivers his speech during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. VOA

“We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East,” Pence said.

Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took the stage later Saturday, and said Europe was losing out because of its stance on Russia.

“At a time when the Europeans allowed to draw themselves into a senseless standoff with Russia and incurred multi-billion-dollar losses from the sanctions pushed for from overseas, the world is rapidly changing. Actually, the EU has lost its monopoly on the regional integration agenda,” Lavrov said.

China’s senior delegate did not respond directly to the accusations made by Vice President Pence, but instead he offered a defense of multilateralism.

“Our world stands at a crossroads and faces a consequential choice between unilateralism and multilateralism, conflict and dialogue, isolation and openness,” Yang Jiechi, a senior member of the politburo and a former Chinese ambassador to the U.S., told delegates.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes United States Vice President Mike Pence, left, for a bilateral meeting during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes United States Vice President Mike Pence, left, for a bilateral meeting during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. VOA

Those sentiments were earlier echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who strongly criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims that Europe was taking advantage of America on trade.

The Munich Security Conference is seen as a key annual forum for world leaders to discuss global security concerns and conflicts — both in public and in private — in dozens of closed-door meetings taking place inside the venue.

The atmosphere this year is one of apprehension, according to analyst Florence Gaub of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

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“There is still a lot of grief over the old order being gone where everything was much more predictable, or at least appeared to be more predictable. So that’s slowly setting in,” said Gaub.

The tone of the conference speeches suggests that even among allies, tensions over a changing world order are no closer to being solved. (VOA)