Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

Russia Should Play Constructive Role in Afghanistan’s Political Affairs

Amid the peace talks brokered by the United States, many ignored the role of Russia, which enthusiastically supported the agreement. Russia is one of the main stakeholders of the peace talks, enhanced its tie with the Taliban leadership and urged the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
After the peace agreement signed between the US and the Taliban, Moscow signaled its preparation to send troops to Afghanistan if the Kabul administration demanded. In that sense, the recent intelligence findings that a Russian military intelligence unit rewarded fighters linked to the Taliban for targeting American troops should come as no surprise. But there is a lot still missing from the reports, which were rejected by both Russia and the Taliban.
The Kremlin admitted to its strategic relationship with the Taliban in 2015, when Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova announced that Russia was sharing intelligence with the Taliban pertaining to ISKP movements. The Kremlin maintains that its relationship with the Taliban is limited only to fighting ISKP and reconciliation within Afghanistan. For Russia, ISKP poses three main challenges to its strategic interests: the potential of Russian citizens traveling to Afghanistan as foreign terrorist fighters; pledges of loyalty by North Caucasian militant groups establishing informal and formal ties; and the potential spillover of violence extremism into Central Asia, which in turn directly affects Russian interests. But many believe that Russia’s activities go much deeper based on recent revelation. In 2017, Gen. John Nicholson, then commander of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, revealed in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that Moscow was actively funding the Taliban.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said in his recent statement that Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan was nothing new and was regularly raised with Russian officials. “There are many folks using the Taliban or who have used the Taliban over years and years and years as proxy forces,” he is cited as saying noting that Iran and Pakistan have also provided aid to the Taliban over the years.
In May 2019, the Kremlin invited senior members of the Kabul administration and the Taliban to Moscow to celebrate what it called “100 years of Russo-Afghan friendship”. At this meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a “total pullout of foreign forces” from Afghanistan. Russia arranged Moscow-based talks to augment the US-Taliban negotiations, which included regional nations, Afghan opposition leaders, and the Taliban, although the Afghan government did not attend. In September 2019, Russian against invited Taliban members to Moscow. At this meeting, Zakharova said, “We are convinced that the complete end to foreign military presence is an inalienable condition of durable peace in Afghanistan.”
Despite this fact, the Trump administration was actively reaching out to Russia for cooperation on those peace talks. US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad repeatedly met with Russian officials to build consensus for the peace talks. 
There are many reports about Taliban figures traveling to Russia. And just as the US and Taliban were finalizing details of the troop pullout, Russia brought the same Taliban leaders into Moscow meetings with a number of Afghan opposition leaders for discussions over the political future of the country.
A report in the New York Times said, “Several Afghan officials, including Asadullah Omarkhel, who was the governor of Kunduz at the time, said they shared with the Americans intelligence that Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban commander who led the assaults on Kunduz, repeatedly crossed into Tajikistan for what they suspected were discussions with Russian agents.”
The Kabul government was also apprehensive about the Russia’s diplomatic and military ties with the Taliban and criticized Moscow for hosting the Taliban’s meetings without the consent of Kabul or participation of its formal delegation. Afghan officials and political analysts stated that hosting the Taliban members repeatedly would give legitimacy to the Taliban group.
Overall, Russia is seeking to maintain its ties with the Taliban and extend its influence in regional countries, including Afghanistan.
It should be noted that due to the intervention of former Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which killed and wounded a countless number of people, Afghans are against the interference of Russia in the country. Moscow should respect the territorial integrity of Afghanistan and cement its diplomatic ties with the government not a militant group.
Meanwhile, Russia should understand that the Taliban are likely to bite the hands that feed them. They are less likely to be trusted. Rather than giving legitimacy to the Taliban group, Russia should play a more constructive role through putting its weight behind the intra-Afghan dialogue and using its leverage on the group to stop violence and bloodshed and integrate into the government.