Russia says it expects ‘good relations’ with Taliban as US troops exit
Russia said it expects to build close ties with the Taliban as American forces start withdrawing from Afghanistan under a peace deal signed last month.
“We want to have normal ties with any new administration in Kabul,” President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said in an interview on Friday in Moscow. “The Taliban understands very well that when they join the government, they’ll need to work for national interests and for that they’ll need good relations with Russia.”
The peace agreement reached in the Qatari capital after 19 years of war provides for the U.S. and its allies to pull out all troops within 14 months, in return for a Taliban pledge to prevent terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a haven. It also sets the stage for the Taliban to hold talks with Afghanistan’s government to decide the political future of the conflict-torn country.
Russia has courted the Taliban, which controls or contests about half of the territory in Afghanistan, saying the militant group can be a potential ally in the fight against Islamic State. The U.S. pull-out to end the longest conflict in American history is providing the Kremlin with a chance to reclaim its clout in the country, where the Soviet Union fought a decade-long war before completing a humiliating withdrawal in 1989. The two former Cold War rivals are also in competition in the Middle East where Russia is seeking to restore its Soviet-era influence.
‘It’s a Risk’
The administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, a U.S. ally, is reluctant to enter into peace talks with the Taliban because “the Kabul leadership is afraid that these talks will lead to their departure,” said Kabulov.
While a power-sharing government is “absolutely realistic,” if the negotiations don’t happen, the Taliban will continue to make territorial advances, said the Russian envoy. “They won’t lose their chance and will strengthen their control of territory,” he said.
The U.S. has accused Russia in the past of supplying weapons to the Taliban, allegations Moscow has denied. The movement won’t be able to impose the same hard-line Islamic rule as in the 1990s, according to Kabulov. “We told them we won’t accept a return of the Islamic Emirate,” he said.
The top Russian official also criticized the U.S. for carrying out air strikes against the Taliban to prevent it from staging small-scale attacks on the Afghan military, which he said it didn’t commit to stop under the peace agreement. “It’s a risk,” said Kabulov. “If the U.S. genuinely wants to bring the peace process to a logical conclusion -- a cease-fire and inter-Afghan dialog -- they shouldn’t act in this way.”