Why Russia Should Rethink Its Afghanistan Policy – OpEd

Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan’s national security advisor attended the eighth international high-level security meeting in the Russian region of Tver. The meeting was devoted to international information security and how to fight organized crime globally. The initiative was taken by Russia’s Security Council and high-ranking security officials from more than 30 states took part in this meeting.
The Afghan National Security Advisor’s agenda was to convince the Russian and Central Asian nations that defeating terrorist groups by individual capacity is difficult, therefore, a joint combat strategy should be developed to fight these groups across the Central Asia.

Afghanistan’s NSA has visited Russia a dozen times during the last two and half years to bolster and cement state level relations with Moscow. Meanwhile, American generals such as Josef Votel and Curtis Scaparrotti separately, and some low-level Afghan security officials as well, accuse Russia of helping supply the Taliban militants in the country. Moscow has always denied the accusations. Hence, Afghanistan’s NSA was encouraging Russia to denounce relations with the Taliban and run for a state-level cooperation while he met his counterpart Nikolai Patrushev.

If allegations are proved right, it seems that the Kremlin is on the threshold of committing a second mistake in its Afghanistan policy in last 38 years — unless it rethinks this possibility. First, during the Cold War era while the erstwhile Soviet occupied Afghanistan in 1979, and now, by siding with the enemy of Afghan people; the Taliban.

During the occupation of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union was faced with the Afghans’ resistance and left the country according to Geneva Accords 1988 in frustration, thus putting an end to a nine-year-long occupation of the country. By backstopping the Taliban, Kremlin is walking an old road leading to a second frustration and dejection. Public antipathy and hostility are roaring up against the Taliban and other terror networks. Siding with them directly enlists Moscow as an enemy of Afghanistan.

It is an aberration and fallacious belief that one must support one terrorist group to get rid of another. Morphologically both, the Taliban and the Islamic State are from the same fiber and have the same contexture. For the Afghan people, the Islamic State and Taliban are both terrorist groups that threaten the stability of their country, kill and torture their citizens, destroy their country’s infrastructures and challenge the sovereignty of their legitimate state.

Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are sacrificing themselves in an excruciating war against the Taliban and the Islamic State, including twenty other terrorist networks that have a similar nature and mindset and function under the umbrella of extremism in the country. Hence, Afghans are asking the Kremlin not to cut off its nose to spite its face, as there is no dichotomy between the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State.

Instead, the Russians should benefit from their relations with the Taliban and bring them to the negotiation table with the Afghan government to end the protracted war in the country, as it is much better for the interests of both Kabul and Moscow.

Notwithstanding, Zamir Kabulov, the head of the Russian foreign ministry’s department responsible for Afghanistan and the Kremlin’s special envoy in the country has punctually emphasized that Kremlin’s contact with the Taliban is for exchanging information with the group and sees a shared interest with them when it comes to fighting the so-called Islamic State. At the same time, the Taliban have acknowledged the authentication of reports and maintained that Russia supports the group “politically and morally”, but providing political and moral support, leave aside the military support as it is widely claimed inside Afghanistan, to a terrorist group is neither in the interests of Russia nor the region.

Instead, as said in an old African proverb, “only the owner can free his house from mice,” so the Russian government should envisage a state-to-state cooperation to address the contemporary and mutual challenges whether it is the Islamic State, drugs or instability in Afghanistan.

The menace of terror and its destructive mindset isl not bound to a particular geography, i.e. Afghanistan. It is epidemic and spreads beyond borders. As a Talib militant, standing on the main intersection of Kunduz city in the Northeast of the country flattering the white flag of the group during the brief capture of the city on 29th September 2015 cried in front of a smartphone camera,  the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will prevail and dominate all Central Asian countries and the whole world one day, if God’s willing.” Therefore, it requires joint efforts to contain terrorism.

Now, it is upon the officials in Kremlin to understand the long-term vision of Taliban. One with knowledge of the Taliban’s ideology and background will not refuse to confess that the group has a plan beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan. The cornerstone of their rebellion is to establish a worldwide Emirate — that is why they sheltered Osama bin Laden, his companions and Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan during their rule in the country from 1994 to 2001.

On the other hand, the mindset and civil code of the Taliban are the same as Daesh (Islamic State) with only a difference in the name. They both behead opposition groups, deny the fundamental rights of women and minorities and believe in a radical reform of the society. Therefore, the Kremlin should be well warned.

Nurturing terrorist groups has always proved disastrous for self-interests, as such Pakistan could be a perfect example. The ISI, the country’s intelligence apparatus,  masterminded and created terrorist groups to fight against India and Afghanistan during the Cold War and beyond, but this policy  has backfired horribly.  Currently there are 31 active non-state actors that have the power to destabilize the country, establish international terror networks and worse, defame Pakistan’s democracy that would subsequently lead to international isolation.

Afghanistan understands that the presence of Russian-speaking fighters in the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq can expand as a potential destructive network in Central Asia that is considered as Russia’s backyard. As such, it is for both Kabul and Moscow to come to a common understanding to fight the menace in mutual terms.

*Nassir Ahmad Taraki lives in Kabul. He is a university lecturer and writes on current affairs. He can be followed on Twitter @NassirTara


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