Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with secretaries of foreign security councils on Afghan issues at the Kremlin in Moscow, Feb. 8, 2023.
Pakistan confirmed Thursday that it skipped this week’s Russia-hosted multilateral consultations on Afghanistan, suggesting there are other forums in which it can more effectively contribute to the Afghan peace process.
Regional countries, including China, India, Iran, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan were invited to Wednesday’s security adviser-level meeting in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office said he addressed the inaugural session of what was described as the fifth multilateral consultation on how to promote Afghan peace and stability.
Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, at a weekly news conference, explained the reasons for Islamabad skipping the meeting in Moscow.
“Our decision not to participate in the instant meeting was made in light of our consideration that Pakistan can make a better contribution in formats and forums, which can contribute constructively to peace in Afghanistan,” she said.
“We will continue to participate in all these mechanisms to their full potential and will continue to engage with our partners to contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Baloch said.
Highly placed Pakistani official sources, however, cited arch-rival India’s participation in Wednesday’s meeting in the Russian capital. The sources went on to say the dialogue was among national security advisers and that currently Pakistan does not have one.
Islamabad’s traditionally strained ties with Moscow have seen significant improvement in recent years, prompting Pakistan to attend dialogues with Russia in support of peace and stability in conflict-torn neighboring Afghanistan.
“Pakistan’s decision is striking, given its strong past record of participation in Afghanistan-focused dialogues with Russia,” said Michael Kugelman, the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.
“But circumstances have changed. India’s new role in such dialogues will make Pakistan treat them with caution,” he stated.
Kugelman said Islamabad also does not want to upset the United States at a moment when it seeks Washington’s assistance, especially through U.S. influence over the International Monetary Fund, to address a severe economic crisis facing Pakistan.
“Islamabad will also want to convey a position of neutrality on the Russia-Ukraine issue and going to a Moscow-hosted meeting so soon after Pakistan held talks with Moscow on Russian energy imports may not be a good look,” he said.
Putin’s office quoted him as telling Wednesday’s gathering that there are conflicts “not far from Russia, including on the Ukrainian track” but they “do not reduce the significance” of the Afghan situation because his country does not want “more points of tension” on its southern borders.
“International terrorist organizations are stepping up their activities [in Afghanistan], including al-Qaida, which is building up its potential,” Putin added.
Russia has not stated why it did not invite Afghanistan’s ruling Islamist Taliban to Wednesday’s consultations.
The former insurgent group seized power in August 2021 as the United States and its NATO allies withdrew troops from the country after battling the Taliban for almost two decades.
But no foreign government has yet granted legitimacy to the de facto Afghan rulers over human rights and terrorism-related concerns.
Russia’s security concerns stem from growing attacks by Islamic State’s regional affiliate in Afghanistan, the Islamic State-Khorasan.
The terrorist group carried out a suicide bombing near the Russian Embassy in Kabul last September, killing two staff members at the diplomatic mission and several Afghan visa-seekers. Moscow is also worried the terror threat can destabilize its Central Asian-allied nations bordering Afghanistan.