On Wednesday, Russia sponsored a round of discussions on Afghanistan with senior Taliban and neighboring country leaders, underscoring Moscow’s power in Central Asia.
To achieve a stable peace in Afghanistan, which has a population of 39 million people, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov opened the talks by emphasizing the importance of “forming a truly inclusive government fully reflecting the interests of not only all ethnic groups but all political forces of the country.”
Despite designating the Taliban as a terror organization in 2003 and never removing it from the list, Russia has tried for years to develop connections with the group. Russian law makes any communication with such groups illegal, but the Foreign Ministry has reacted to queries about the seeming inconsistency by claiming that its talks with the Taliban are necessary for helping Afghanistan stabilize.
Unlike many other nations, Russia has kept its embassy in Kabul open and its ambassador has maintained frequent communication with the Taliban since the Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital in August.
Lavrov praised the Taliban for their efforts to stabilize the country’s military-political situation and secure the proper functioning of state institutions.
“We are happy with the degree of practical engagement with Afghan authorities,” Lavrov said in his opening remarks, “which allows us to effectively secure the security of Russian residents in Afghanistan and the unhindered functioning of our embassy in Kabul.”
Simultaneously, he underlined the need of upholding human rights and implementing balanced social programs, noting that he had discussed these concerns with the Taliban team prior to the discussions.
Lavrov stated that a cargo of humanitarian assistance would be sent to Afghanistan soon.
The international acceptance of the Taliban would be determined by the inclusivity of their administration and its human rights record, according to Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin ambassador on Afghanistan, who also attended the discussions.
“We expect the Taliban to respond to… the international community’s request for inclusivity and basic human rights, which encompasses a broad range of human rights, and they confirmed that they are working on it, the process of improving governance, and the process of improving the human rights situation,” Kabulov told reporters.
“The conference is highly essential for the stability of the entire area,” Abdul Salam Hanafi, a deputy prime minister in the Taliban’s temporary government who attended Wednesday’s discussions, said.
The participants in the discussions concluded by saying that “future practical involvement with Afghanistan required to take into consideration the new reality, that is, the Taliban rising to power in the country, independent of the international community’s official recognition of the new Afghan government.”
“Participating countries urge the current Afghan leadership to improve governance and form a truly inclusive government that adequately reflects the interests of all major ethno-political forces in the country,” they said, emphasizing the importance of the Afghan leadership “respecting ethnic groups, women, and children.”
Participants in the meeting called for an international donor conference under the auspices of the UN, “under the understanding that the core burden of post-conflict… reconstruction and development of Afghanistan must be borne by the powers that have had military contingents in the country for the past 20 years.”
In Afghanistan, the Soviet Union waged a 10-year war that concluded in 1989 with the withdrawal of its soldiers. Moscow has made a strong comeback as a powerful power broker in international discussions on Afghanistan in recent years, inviting Taliban representatives and members of other factions for bilateral and multilateral meetings.
The so-called Moscow format negotiations, which have been taking place since 2017, involve officials from China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and former Soviet states in Central Asia, in addition to the Taliban and other Afghan groups.
The talks on Wednesday were preceded by a meeting of top officials from Russia, China, and Pakistan earlier this week. The United States, which is also a member of the “troika plus” configuration, was absent from the conference.
The United States explained its absence from the conference by saying it supported the negotiations but was unable to participate due to “logistical” issues. Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, did not expand on those reasons, but his remarks came only hours before Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, quit. Officials claimed his successor, Thomas West, was not prepared to attend the Moscow conference after his resignation took effect on Tuesday.
“The Troika Plus has shown to be a productive and successful platform,” Price added. “We want to participate in that forum in the future, but we won’t be able to do so this week.”
West is likely to visit Moscow for talks next month, according to Kabulov, the Kremlin ambassador.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that there is no need to hurry into officially recognizing the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new authorities, but that negotiations with them are necessary.
Simultaneously, Putin and other Russian officials emphasized the dangers presented by the Islamic State and other terrorists stationed in northern Afghanistan, as well as the fact that drug trafficking from Afghanistan will continue to be a problem.
“Numerous terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State and al-Qaida, are attempting to exploit the country’s instability by carrying out terrible acts,” Lavrov added. “Under the pretext of migration, there is a genuine risk of terrorism and narcotics pouring into neighboring countries.”
“Do not let the territory of Afghanistan to be used against the interests of any other country, especially its neighbors, our friends and partners in Central Asia,” Russia’s top ambassador warned the Taliban.
To help fight the dangers, Russia has promised to offer military support to its ex-Soviet allies in Central Asia, and joint drills have been undertaken in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, both of which border Afghanistan. This week, Tajikistan began a large-scale military exercise involving 5,000 troops, over 700 military vehicles, and combat planes.