Oct 20, 2021
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Russia lobbies Taliban * out of fear for southern borders

In the photo: III Meeting of the Moscow format on the Afghan settlement in Moscow

In the photo: III Meeting of the Moscow format on the Afghan settlement in Moscow (Photo: Sergey Bobylev / TASS)

Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov He held talks in Moscow with a Taliban delegation * on October 20. This is the first such meeting since the Islamists came to power in Afghanistan, and representatives from ten countries of the region are also taking part in the talks at the President Hotel in the Moscow format.

Opening the meeting, Lavrov touched upon the most important issue for Moscow: he recalled the Taliban’s promise to “strictly follow the line on preventing anyone from using the territory of Afghanistan against third countries, primarily neighbors.” They discussed, in particular, ISIS ** and Al-Qaeda. *** The representatives of the Afghan delegation confirmed their promise to stop the problem.

Another threat is the “spill-over of drug activity” masquerading as migration flows onto the territory of neighboring countries. The development of the Afghan economy can solve the problem. “The time has come to mobilize the resources of the world community to provide Kabul with effective financial and economic humanitarian aid,” our minister urged, promising humanitarian assistance from Moscow.

Lavrov called the transfer of power to the Taliban a fait accompli. However, peace in Afghanistan can only be achieved if a “truly inclusive government is formed, which must fully reflect the interests of all, not only ethnic, but also the political forces of the country.” The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) government is already inclusive, retorted Abdul Salam Hanafi

The Moscow format was created in 2017 as a six-party consultation mechanism between Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, China and Pakistan. The political content was declared national reconciliation in Afghanistan. However, only the Taliban are present in Moscow. There will be no opponents, the Russian special envoy for Afghanistan explained earlier. Zamir Kabulov

Not invited, in particular Hamid Karzai, who was the President of Afghanistan in 2004-2014. He previously took part in Moscow-led consultations on Afghanistan and participated in the Moscow format in 2018, when a Taliban delegation first came to Russia. According to some reports, the absence of opponents was a condition of the Taliban.

In the future, the United States may also take part in the Moscow format. On the eve of the post of the special envoy for Afghanistan instead of Zalmaya Khalilzadeh occupied by his former deputy Thomas West… This time West did not come, citing “logistical reasons.” Lavrov expressed hope that West will support the outcome of the meeting in Moscow.

The negotiations in the Russian Federation took place against the background of fighting in the Puli-Hisar and Dikh-Salah districts of the Afghan province of Baghlan, where the Taliban, according to open sources, lost dozens of people killed and retreated. In turn, Kabul said that “at least three key commanders of the Panjshir militia were killed in the Andarab region of Baghlan province.”

Location Ahmed Masuda (son of the slain mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud), who led the National Resistance Front opposing the Taliban, is unknown. According to unconfirmed reports, he may be in Tajikistan. Dushanbe openly opposes the Taliban, believing that the movement infringes on Tajiks, of whom there are many in Afghanistan.

Russia, which welcomes the Taliban, can get in the way of Tajikistan’s overly independent position. Nevertheless, within the framework of the CSTO, Moscow held military exercises in the south of this country to practice “an operation to localize a border conflict associated with attempts by international terrorists to penetrate the territory of Tajikistan.” Four thousand fighters took part in them.

Despite seven years of Russian contacts with the Taliban Vladimir Putin recently urged not to rush to recognize the regime he has established. He noted that the transitional government does not reflect “the entire palette of Afghan society,” and promised to monitor the Taliban’s fulfillment of their promises.

Expert on Central Asia Arkady Dubnov believes that Russia is striving to play a leading role in the intra-Afghan settlement.

– It should be understood that special representatives for Afghanistan from the countries represented are meeting in Moscow. After all, these are not foreign ministers, let alone heads of state. They do not make decisions, although they influence them and largely determine the policy of their countries in relation to Afghanistan, since they are considered the main specialists in this country.

The most important circumstance of these negotiations is that for the first time the Taliban are present in Moscow as a full-fledged government organization, despite the fact that, paradoxically, they are still banned in Russia. This is an unprecedented incident. But this is a step towards recognizing the legitimacy of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Russia is important to the Taliban as a lobbyist for their political ambitions. We are permanent members of the UN Security Council. And the new government of Afghanistan wants to get a seat in the UN. Moscow can lobby for the desire to remove the Taliban from the list of terrorist organizations at the level of the UN Security Council, which, in principle, should lead to diplomatic recognition of the Taliban government.

SP: What formal results can be expected from the negotiations?

– The maximum that can be expected from the meeting is the achievement of a compromise statement, which has already been prepared. If it manages to be adopted, taking into account the amendments that will be proposed by the special envoys, then this can be considered a definite success. But most importantly, the Moscow format will emphasize the role of Russia, which wants to dominate decision-making on Afghanistan.

“SP”: By all means dominate?

– Russia is not a country on which the stabilization of the intra-Afghan crisis fully depends. They can only be countries on which the provision of large-scale humanitarian and economic assistance depends. Such a country can be the United States – they are deciding the issue of unfreezing the financial assets of the Afghan government, or Europe with its humanitarian aid.

According to Konstantin Blokhin, an expert at the Center for Security Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow is forced to deal with the problem of Afghanistan.

– I do not think that Russia is competing with any country for the leading role in the intra-Afghan settlement. They usually compete for a tidbit, for a jackpot. And it is extremely difficult to call Afghanistan as such. This is far from Eldorado. This is the hardest baggage.

The United States abandoned it, spending colossal money – $ 2 trillion, which exceeds Afghanistan’s GDP dozens of times. Russia itself had a negative experience in Afghanistan during the Soviet era. Before that, in the 19th century, there was a British experience. It is not for nothing that Afghanistan is called the “graveyard of empires”.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the Americans, having left Afghanistan, wanted to create military bases in neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. They are more comfortable there. They will not be attacked, they will be closer to the Russian borders.

“SP”: Our Foreign Ministry has already clearly expressed itself against this. So, you have to cope on your own …

– Of course, we have our finger on the pulse in terms of control over the situation. After all, the Americans left $ 85 billion worth of weapons in Afghanistan. This is colossal money – more than the annual military budget of the Russian Federation. These weapons can transform any organization.

After all, if terrorism spreads outside Afghanistan – ISIS or the Taliban, it doesn’t matter – then it will be a real problem for us. If it comes to the countries of Central Asia, then it will inevitably come to us.

* The Taliban movement, by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of February 14, 2003, was recognized as a terrorist organization, its activity on the territory of the Russian Federation is prohibited.

** The “Islamic State” (ISIS) by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of December 29, 2014 was recognized as a terrorist organization, its activities on the territory of Russia are prohibited.

*** “Al-Qaeda” was recognized as a terrorist organization by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of February 14, 2003, its activity on the territory of Russia is prohibited.

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