Russia continues to expand its international influence. After allying with China and Iran, cementing its relations with Syria and growing closer to Turkey, it now seeks to regain a position of significant power in Afghanistan.
As 2016 drew to a close, reports the Times of India, Russia, China, and Pakistan held a meeting in Moscow to discuss ways to work with the Taliban. Iran is also said to be working with the group.
One major topic of the gathering was a proposal to remove top Taliban leaders from UN sanctions.
A study by The Diplomat noted that “On December 8, 2016, Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Alexander Mantyskiy, announced that the Russian government had made a diplomatic outreach to the Taliban’s leaders… A senior Taliban official told Reuters in early December that Russia’s relationship with the Taliban began in 2007, as Moscow shared the Taliban’s objective of forcing all U.S. troops to swiftly withdraw from Afghanistan.
“The official end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan in 2014 did not cause Russia to distance itself from the Taliban…Critics of Russian foreign policy argue that Putin’s outreach to the Taliban is a cynical ploy to undermine the legitimacy of President Ashraf Ghani’s U.S.-backed government. Some Afghan policymakers and General John Nicholson, a leading U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, have publicly given credibility to this contention…Citing a high-level Taliban official The Daily Beast reported in October 2015 that Moscow also encouraged Tajik intelligence operatives to facilitate the shipment of Russian arms to the Taliban. This revelation, if true, would flagrantly contradict Russia’s pledge to uphold the international arms embargo against the Taliban…If the Taliban continues to recapture territory in southern Afghanistan and make a push for control of Kabul, Russia will be uniquely placed to have a decisive role in shaping Afghanistan’s political future.”
According to Reuters, “Afghan and American officials are increasingly worried that any deepening of ties between Russia and Taliban militants fighting to topple the government in Kabul could complicate an already precarious security situation…a series of recent meetings they say has taken place in Moscow and Tajikistan has made Afghan intelligence and defence officials nervous about more direct support including weapons or funding. A senior Afghan security official called Russian support for the Taliban a ‘dangerous new trend’, an analysis echoed by …General John Nicholson. He…said Moscow was lending legitimacy to the Taliban.
A Voice of America report also quotes General Nicholson as stating that “Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban.” As the New York Analysis of Policy and Government has previously noted, the same could have been said about former President Obama, who negotiated with the Taliban in contradiction of long-established U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
For its part, the Taliban has acknowledged its ties to both Russia and Iran, according to the Anadolu Agency
“The Afghan Taliban group has acknowledged its ties with Moscow and Tehran, projecting them as proof of their legitimacy and their supposed diplomatic success. In a series of messages shared on their official website on Thursday, the militant group said: ‘It is joyous to see that the regional countries have also understood that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the name the Afghan Taliban use for themselves] is a political and military force’…[in November], Alexander Mantytskiy, Russian ambassador to Afghanistan, and Zamir Kabulov, special representative of Russia in Afghanistan-Pakistan, caused uproar here when they acknowledged ties between the Taliban and Russia….Afghan lawmakers were also increasingly becoming skeptical about the intentions of Moscow and Tehran. “Afghan officials in western Farah province have accused Iran of equipping and harboring the Taliban. Similar concerns have been raised by security officials in restive northern Kunduz province that borders Tajikistan. Kunduz briefly fell to the Taliban earlier this year, and Afghan officials claimed to have confiscated Russian arms from the Taliban after reclaiming it…Moscow had hosted Chinese and Pakistani officials for a trilateral conference on Afghanistan, without any representation from the Kabul government.”
The Taliban’s list of atrocities is on par or even exceeds that of any terrorist organization on the planet. Its massive list of crimes has been cataloged by organizations such as Amnesty International.