Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, August 8th, 2020

Kabul-Moscow Growing Security Cooperation

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Kabul-Moscow Growing Security Cooperation

With intensification of war and violence in Afghanistan, Russia and its southern neighbors bordering Afghanistan are increasingly concerned with the deterioration of the situation in northern parts of the country. The recent failure of peace efforts that was supposed to see start of direct peace talks between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan has also added to Russian concerns over the war and peace developments in Afghanistan and the country’s prospect of security and stability. Recently, Afghanistan’s acting defense minister Massoum Stanikzai visited Moscow for talk with Russian officials for the country’s help in training and equipping Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). According to officials, the aim of the visit was to attract Russia’s military support and cooperation to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The efforts to get Russia’s military assistance is coming as part of the national unity government’s heightened diplomatic efforts to have more military cooperation from Afghanistan’s regional and international allies.
Russian authorities have recently hinted the country’s interest in expanding military cooperation with Afghanistan and providing military assistance to ANSF. Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Alexander Mantytskiy had earlier said that negotiations were going on between Kabul and Moscow on provision of MI17 helicopters to Afghanistan. In addition, Russia had earlier provided thousands of automatic rifles to ANSF. In recent years after end of NATO and US combat mission in Afghanistan, Russia has shown interest to expand cooperation with Afghanistan on security and counterterrorism, something both Moscow and Kabul were reluctant for before 2014 during the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan.
The move from both sides to expand military cooperation is coming at a time when Russia is increasingly concerned over the security situation in northern Afghanistan and its possible implications on stability and security of the former Soviet republics and Russia. The Taliban offensive focusing in recent years on the northern provinces has alerted Russia for infiltration of foreign jihadists to the Central Asian countries. Earlier in March, Russian and Tajik militaries conducted joint military exercises along the Tajik-Afghan border involving tens of thousands of Tajik and Russian forces. The drills mainly aimed deterring infiltration of militants and possible attacks from the militant groups operating in eastern and northern Afghanistan.
A number of foreign-rooted militants groups including some with origins of Central Asian region such as the Uzbekistan Islamic Movement have managed to find a foothold in Afghanistan after withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014 and intensification of Taliban attacks across the country. Many of these foreign-originated militant groups also seek jihad ambitions in their own countries and aim to topple governments at home. Withdrawal of most of foreign forces from Afghanistan by end of 2014 and a military crackdown by Pakistani army on the militant groups operating in North Waziristan were two main factors behind growing numbers of foreign-rooted militant groups finding a foothold in Afghanistan. However, the political crisis that gripped the country and the resurgence of the Taliban as the main insurgency group also helped foreign-rooted militant groups such as the Islamic State and Uzbekistan Islamic Movement to gain a footing for operating in Afghanistan.
The scenario of militant groups with affiliations to the Central Asian nations gaining more ground and expanding activities in Afghanistan is of high concerns for the former Soviet republics and Russia. It would be a nightmare for Russia and its southern neighbors to see jihadist outfits such as Tajik, Uzbek, Chechen militants and the Islamic State find safe sanctuaries in Afghanistan from where they can plan and organize attacks in their own countries. The Islamic State is particularly interested in expanding its activities to the Central Asia, and the militant group has been hoping to expand its influence in Afghanistan so to be able to further expand to the north. Despite that the Islamic State is considerably weakened since it emerged and found prominence last year, Afghanistan’s northern neighbors still consider it a potential and long-term threat.
The emergence of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan has largely modified the image of the Taliban before many in the regional and far beyond. Due to notoriety of the Islamic State, many regional and global players were driven to change their approach towards the Afghan Taliban which is the main insurgency group in Afghanistan. Taliban’s unrelenting stance against the Islamic State and its fierce campaign against the Syria-born jihadist group led to some regional countries secret approach the Taliban and establish contacts with the militant group. Russian officials recently denied having any links with the Taliban, insisting that Moscow is supporting the central government in Afghanistan. Earlier a top Russian diplomat had suggested his country had established contacts with Taliban over fighting the Islamic State. The comments, which later were modified by Russians, sparked concerns in Afghanistan.
Security partnership with Russia is important for Afghanistan. Despite that Russia differs with the US on Washington’s policies in Afghanistan particularly over the peace efforts, Russia is a potential supporter of Afghanistan in fighting the Taliban insurgency and curbing influence of the foreign militant groups. Despite that Russia has increasingly grown critical to the US policy in Afghanistan largely due to the two country’s tense relations over other global conflicts the two countries have a history of cooperation in Afghanistan. Russia has been supportive to the US-led campaign in Afghanistan, and is a key regional supporter of the Afghan government.
Relations with Russia have always been important for Afghanistan. The two countries have had cooperation over combating drug trafficking and security in past fourteen years. However, Russia had no interest in reengaging in the conflict in Afghanistan by playing a more direct role in the fight against the Taliban insurgency. Now with the US taking the backseat with the Resolute Support Mission as it is on the course to further shrink its presence in Afghanistan, it is time for the Afghan government to expand security cooperation with Moscow and seek the country’s greater role in the efforts to strengthen the Afghan security forces.

Abdul Ahad Bahrami is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at ahad.bahrami@gmail.com

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