Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Afghanistan Continues to Fume over Russia’s Outreach to Taliban

Officials and lawmakers in Afghanistan continue to question and denounce Russia’s recent disclosure that it maintains “limited political” contacts with the Taliban.

The ongoing session of the Afghan parliament has witnessed a heated debate on the issue, with some lawmakers condemning Russia’s outreach to the Islamist insurgency as “shameful” while others accusing Moscow of providing modern warfare to Taliban fighters.

Lawmakers also criticized neighboring Iran for backing the Taliban.

On Wednesday, the legislative lower house, or Wolasi Jirga, passed a resolution, urging President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government not to allow neighboring and regional countries to interfere in internal Afghan matters “on the pretext of supporting the Taliban to fight Islamic State.”

Russian ambassador to Kabul, Alexander Mantytskiy, revealed last week his government maintains ties with the insurgent group but they are not “intensive.”

“Yes, we do have contacts [with the Taliban] but they are aimed at ensuring safety of Russian nationals and encourage the Taliban to engage in peace talks [with Kabul],” Mantytskiy told the Afghan senate committee on international relations Saturday in unprecedented testimony.

He expressed annoyance at criticism of Russian ties to the Taliban, saying countries such as the United States, Britain, Italy, Qatar and Saudi Arabia all maintain relations with the insurgents.

The diplomat. however, dismissed allegations Moscow was backing the Taliban to prevent IS from reaching Russia and China through Afghanistan’s neighboring Central Asian States.

Though Mantytskiy acknowledged Russia and the Taliban have shared interests in fighting IS in Afghanistan.

He reiterated Russian concerns that many of the fighters in IS ranks in Syria and Iraq belong to “our friendly Central Asian” neighboring states.

The Russian diplomat added it is possible that when they begin to disperse in the Middle Eastern region they would try to return to their native countries and Afghanistan to pose a serious threat.

Meanwhile, the Afghan foreign ministry also has warned that maintaining “any kind of support or contacts” with groups destabilizing Afghanistan would undermine regional stability as well. It also called for neighboring and regional countries to “adhere to principles of government-to-government” relations to effectively tackle common challenges facing the region.

The Taliban also insists on “political nature” of its relations with Moscow. Its spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told VOA the Taliban has neither received any cooperation nor has it asked for any help from foreign countries, including Russia.

But when asked whether Russians are seeking the Taliban’s help in fighting the IS, Mujahid said.

“Our relations with all regional countries are meant to promote regional peace and steer our country out of the crisis. As for Russia’s policy of maintaining ties with us, it is for them to explain, but there are many problems facing the region,” insisted the Taliban spokesman.

Analysts, however, do not see Russia wanting to support the Taliban militarily because it would weaken the Afghan government, deepen the chaos, and could eventually encourage radical forces like IS to expand influence in the region.

“But if it [Russia’s ties to Taliban] could further help the peace talks with the Taliban, I think it could have a positive outcome for both the Afghan government and the Taliban,” says Kabul-based political observer, Haroun Mir.

Russian officials allege the U.S. military and its NATO allies have failed to achieve their security objectives in Afghanistan and contain IS activities there.

But U.S. commander of NATO’S Afghan mission, General John Nicholson, has dismissed Moscow’s assertions and criticized Russia and Iran for giving “overt legitimacy” to the Taliban, saying it is not based on facts.

“Their [Russia’s] narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government. And of course, the Afghan government and the U.S. counterterrorism effort are the ones achieving the greatest effect against Islamic State,” Nicholson stated earlier this month.

The general added that Russia is using its public legitimacy to “essentially” undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort, and “bolster the belligerents.”

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