As Trump seeks an exit from Afghanistan, Moscow steps in

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai arrives at the Moscow conference Tuesday.

Moscow (CNN)The Trump administration may be negotiating an exit from Afghanistan, but Russia is stepping up its game there.

On Tuesday, the President Hotel in central Moscow was the scene of an unusual, high-profile event: the launch of a two-day conference on Afghanistan.
This was no mere talking shop; the meeting brought representatives of the Taliban together with some of Afghanistan's main political players, including several of the country's most powerful regional and ethnic leaders.
The meeting, ostensibly organized by members of the Afghan diaspora in Russia, also carried a quasi-official imprimatur. The President Hotel -- formerly known as the October -- belongs to the presidential administration, and Ghulam Mohammad Jalal, one of the organizers of the conference, said the Russian Foreign Ministry had provided "technical support" to the event.
Then there was the guest list, topped by Hamid Karzai, who served as Afghanistan's president from late 2001 until 2014 and still has enormous political stature. It was striking to see him sitting at the table in Moscow with representatives of the Taliban.
Karzai, who was escorted into Afghanistan by a US special operations team during the campaign to topple the Taliban in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, had long reached out to what he called "Taliban brothers" in efforts to coax them toward peace negotiations.
Afghanistan's former president Hamid Karzai (L) and the Taliban's chief delegate Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai at the conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on Tuesday.
But he was also infuriated by a US-supported effort to create a Taliban office in the Qatari capital of Doha as a platform for peace talks. After the Taliban raised their flag over the office and gave it the trappings of an embassy, Karzai accused Washington of not playing straight, and suspended talks with the US on a bilateral security pact.
Now history is rhyming, if not repeating.
Late last month, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said that the US and the Taliban had agreed in principle on a framework in Doha that could eventually bring Afghanistan's long-running war to an end.
The details remain to be fleshed out, but immediately after his meetings in Doha, Khalilzad flew to Kabul to brief Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. That move appeared timed to address concerns that the US government might sidestep the Afghan government in efforts to facilitate a peace process with the Taliban.