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Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers won backing from 10 regional powers at talks in Moscow for the idea of a United Nations donor conference to help the country stave off economic collapse and a humanitarian catastrophe to help rebuild the country. The Moscow format members — Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan — vowed to respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, the statement said. They also stressed that they view the Taliban as the new Afghan authorities despite the absence of official recognition and will interact with them respectfully. The US chose not to attend the talks, citing technical reasons, but has said it may join future rounds. Russia has led the calls for international aid, conscious that any spillover of conflict from Afghanistan could threaten regional stability.
The participants expressed concern over the manifestation of activities by banned terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, and not only urged the international community to mobilize efforts to provide urgent economic and humanitarian aid to the conflict-ridden, cash-strapped nation but also called for establishing engagement with the country regardless of whether the international community recognizes the Taliban as the new Afghan government. The practical interaction with Afghanistan must be built taking into account the new reality—the coming to power of the Taliban movement in this country.
Amir Khan Muttaqi, Afghanistan’s interim foreign minister, said the Taliban was committed to forming an inclusive government and his country would abide by its pledge not to let its territory be used to pose threats to other nations. Whereas, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the meeting participants that Moscow recognized that the Taliban was working to stabilize the situation in the country and was satisfied with the level of practical interaction with the Afghan authorities, which would ensure the security of Russian citizens living in Afghanistan and the smooth functioning of Russia’s embassy and other embassies in Kabul.
From Eastern Europe to the Central Asian republics to its south, Russia has long tried to exert its influence over the former Soviet space. But since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan amid the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal, coming up with a strategy for engaging the new leadership in Kabul has become a rising priority for the Kremlin as it tries to maintain political stability across its backyard. The balancing act has taken varying forms. Russia has also called on the international community to unfreeze more than $9 billion in Afghan reserves held in overseas accounts and to fund humanitarian aid efforts. What Russia wants to show is that it does have a solid working relationship with the new authorities in Afghanistan. It’s a way of giving them legitimacy without recognizing them. Ultimately, Russia aims to make itself an effective conduit between the Taliban and rival Afghan factions, as well as other countries, and slow the Islamists’ creep into Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence. It’s like the Taliban is on probation, they are being given the chance to solve Afghanistan issues, fulfill their promises not to attack Central Asia, and keep different terrorist organizations out of Afghanistan.
The US’ absence reflects its escapist psychology of being irresponsible on Afghan issues. As a prime culprit of the Afghan crisis, the US should shoulder major responsibility for contributing humanitarian aid to the country, where all kinds of aid were in urgent need as winter approached. Isolating Afghanistan is in no one’s interests.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also said that while there is a need to interact with the Taliban, there shouldn’t be a rush to formally recognize the movement as Afghanistan’s new leaders. Moscow’s main objective was to normalize the economic and political situation in Afghanistan and limit the danger of instability spilling over its borders. The Kremlin appears especially concerned with the impact on Tajikistan, which shares an almost 900-mile border with Afghanistan. There are over 15,000 Afghan refugees in Tajikistan, with 500 to 600 people wanting to cross over each day. The situation on the Tajik-Afghan state border is quite difficult. The Soviet Union fought a nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan, departing in 1989 after some 15,000 Soviet troops had been killed and tens of thousands wounded.
To avoid being dragged into another potential conflict, Moscow appeared focused on trying to bolster the defenses of Tajikistan and other countries in the region. Since the Taliban takeover, Moscow has held military exercises in Tajikistan and shored up its hardware capabilities at its 201st military base there. This was Russia’s largest military facility outside its borders and includes armored, artillery, and reconnaissance units, air defense forces, radiation, chemical, and biological protection, and signal-communications troops. A Russia-led security alliance including Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan is also currently holding military exercises near the Afghan border in Tajikistan.
The Moscow format talks highlighted the prominent role of China-Russia coordination on the Afghan crisis when the US and some Western countries chose to evade responsibility, as Moscow gathered 10 countries and the Taliban to focus on the developing political and military situation in Afghanistan. China and Russia are involved in many multilateral mechanisms to address Afghanistan’s concerns and establish cooperation, including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which focuses on security issues. It has been a diplomatic tradition of Russia to lead a multilateral mechanism that involves regional and relevant parties to coordinate and cope with crises. And gathering Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to this meeting is beneficial to address their concerns, build consensus and help Afghanistan seek a way out in the future.
The member countries consider it important is that the Taliban pursue a moderate and wise internal and foreign policy, be friendly to Afghanistan’s neighbor states, and achieve the shared goals of durable peace, security, safety, and long-term prosperity and respect the rights of ethnic groups, women, and children. To address this problem, the sides proposed to convene a broad-based international donor conference under the auspices of the United Nations as soon as possible. Certainly with the understanding that the core burden of the post-conflict economic and financial reconstruction and development of Afghanistan must be shouldered by troop-based actors who were in the country for the past 20 years.
In order to obtain official recognition, the Taliban must improve the state management system and form a truly inclusive government that adequately reflects the interests of all major ethnopolitical forces in the country. The US is fettered by its own principles on the Afghan issue, that it rejects the legitimacy of the Taliban but still hopes to engage in dialogue with the group. The two only engaged in the Doha dialogue mechanism but refrained from conducting dialogue in other mechanisms. But the US requested the Afghan Taliban to meet certain requirements in regard to the political system, religious policy, and policies on women’s and children’s rights before they provide aid to the war-torn nation. The US’ absence reflects its escapist psychology of being irresponsible on Afghan issues. As a prime culprit of the Afghan crisis, the US should shoulder major responsibility for contributing humanitarian aid to the country, where all kinds of aid were in urgent need as winter approached. Isolating Afghanistan is in no one’s interests.