Russia Talks Up ‘Positive’ Role for Taliban, Sees Path to Power
(Bloomberg) -- Russia said the Taliban is playing a “positive” role by helping to secure the border with Central Asian states amid a militant threat and could take control of Afghanistan unless peace efforts accelerate.
“The Taliban at least for now is a positive factor from the point of view of ensuring the security of our Central Asian partners,” Deputy Foreign Minister Zamir Kabulov, who is the Kremlin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, said Tuesday in an online talk hosted by the Valdai discussion club.
The Russian diplomat said the Islamist group isn’t yet capable of seizing lasting control of the country’s major cities. But he warned that the balance of force is on the Taliban’s side. Without “real progress” in negotiations on power-sharing, he said, “their seizure of power in the country will become a very realistic prospect.”
Russia has been anxious to prevent a spillover of the conflict in Afghanistan into neighboring Central Asian states as concern grows over the Taliban’s rapid gains amid the pull-out of U.S. troops after 20 years. Russia has officially included the Taliban on its list of banned extremist and terrorist organizations.
Kabulov met on July 8 in Moscow with a Taliban delegation, which pledged to respect the borders of Afghanistan’s neighbors.
Russian defense officials said Tuesday the army will hold joint military drills with Uzbekistan near the border with Afghanistan with about 1,500 troops from July 30-August 10.
President Vladimir Putin has offered to help Tajik authorities deal with the increased fighting in the border area. At least 1,000 Afghan troops fled earlier this month to Tajikistan, which mobilized an extra 20,000 troops to guard its frontier with Afghanistan. Russia has a major military base in Tajikistan.
Putin at his summit last month with U.S. President Joe Biden proposed to use Russian bases in Central Asia for joint intelligence-gathering in Afghanistan with the deployment of drones, the Kommersant newspaper reported on Saturday. The Kremlin declined to comment on that report.
Russia has warned the U.S. against any bid to re-establish military facilities in former Soviet states on Afghanistan’s borders, which it sees as its traditional backyard. Two decades ago, Russia agreed to let the U.S. to station troops in Central Asia as it retaliated for the 9/11 terrorist attacks plotted by al-Qaeda from Afghan soil.
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