A second round of international talks in Moscow on the stabilization of Afghanistan ended Wednesday with participating countries calling for Central Asian nations to be included in future discussions.
Representatives from Afghanistan were included in the talks for the first time, joining those from Russia, Pakistan, China, Iran and India.
“In the context of possible broadening of this negotiation format, [an] understanding was reached to develop regional efforts to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan by involving at the next stage the potential of other countries, primarily from Central Asia,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said after the meeting, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Russia has said it wants stability and cooperation to fight extremist groups, including the Islamic State, which is gaining ground in Central Asia. But Afghan officials are not happy with Russia’s direct talks with the Taliban, which U.S. officials say are aimed at undermining their efforts.
The United States was not invited to participate in the talks.
The exclusion of Afghanistan from the first round of discussions raised concerns among officials in Kabul as well as in the United States.
While the United Nations says the Taliban is responsible for five times as many deaths and injuries, Islamic State group attacks are on the rise in Afghanistan, with a tenfold growth in 2016.
U.S. officials say Russia’s contacts with the Taliban, along with Iran’s and Pakistan’s, lend them legitimacy and support while undermining the Afghan government and NATO efforts to fight the extremists.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says thousands more U.S. troops are needed there to train Afghanistan’s forces to better handle threats to security.