Russian envoy expects Taliban not to threaten Central Asia

Vladimir Isachenkov
Associated Press

Moscow – Moscow expects the Taliban to fulfill its pledge not to threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia, the Kremlin envoy on Afghanistan said in an interview published Wednesday.

Zamir Kabulov, who met with a Taliban delegation that visited Moscow last week, voiced confidence that the Taliban would focus on securing their gains in Afghanistan and wouldn’t try to challenge the countries of the region.

“They visited Moscow to offer guarantees on behalf of the Taliban’s supreme leadership that the territory of Afghanistan will not be used against the interests of third countries,” Kabulov said in an interview with the state RIA-Novosti news agency. He said he previously received similar assurances from Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the co-founder of the Taliban.

In this file photo taken on Friday, July 9, 2021, Members of political delegation from the Afghan Taliban's movement Suhil Shaheen, left, Mawlawi Shahabuddin Dilawar, center, and Dr, Mohammad Naim, arrive to attend a news conference in Moscow, Russia.

The Taliban’s focus on fighting the Islamic State group also works in Russia’s interests, Kabulov said.

“The Taliban fight the Islamic State, and the Taliban gains erode the foundation for any IS attacks and diversions in Central Asia,” the diplomat said.

The Taliban claimed last week that it now controls 85% of Afghanistan’s territory after making quick gains amid the withdrawal of American troops that is set to wrap up on Aug. 31. Earlier this month, Taliban advances forced hundreds of Afghan soldiers to flee across the border into Tajikistan.

Kabulov said the retreating Afghan troops fired on the Taliban fighters after crossing into Tajikistan, but the Taliban didn’t return fire.

He also said he did not expect the Taliban to take over all of Afghanistan.

“They may take control of several provinces… but it wouldn’t allow them to become the omnipotent rulers of Afghanistan,” Kabulov said.

The Kremlin envoy acknowledged that the Islamic State group and other militant groups in Afghanistan could pose a threat to Russia’s allies in Central Asia north of Afghanistan. He said Russia would work with Central Asian nations to coordinate security efforts and tighten border protection.

“That would be the most impressive signal to any forces against encroaching on our security,” said Kabulov, who is set to attend an international security conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan that opens Thursday.

In this file photo taken on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, left, speaks to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, third left, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban's chief negotiator, third right, and other members of the Taliban delegation prior to their talks in Moscow, Russia.

He predicted that Afghanistan will see intense fighting in the coming months before the Afghan government, the Taliban and other groups “become ready for substantial and fruitful talks.”

“Both parties were preparing for the fighting for too long, and before they spend their ammunition it’s hard to expect anything,” the Russian diplomat said. “The fighting will continue for another couple of months before a new military-political balance is established.”

Kabulov said that Russia has been talking to all parties involved to encourage them to negotiate a political settlement.

Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, reaching out to feuding Afghan factions and hosting several rounds of their talks.

While he criticized the results of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, Kabulov stressed that Moscow and Washington share common interests in Afghanistan and were working closely together to help stabilize the country.

“It’s almost the only field where we cooperate in a fruitful way with the Americans,” the envoy said.

Russia nonetheless has warned the United States against deploying its troops in the former Soviet Central Asian nations following the withdrawal from Afghanistan.