Afghanistan concerned by Russian pro-Taliban meddling

By Sulaiman


Afghan investigators inspect the wreckage of the district police headquarters in Kabul on March 2, a day after a suicide car bombing. Sixteen people were killed on March 1 in simultaneous Taliban suicide assaults on two security compounds in Kabul. Afghan authorities accuse Russia of arming and funding the Taliban. [Shah Marai/AFP]

KABUL -- Although Russia claims to be supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan to fight the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), Afghan officials say the Kremlin is undermining Afghan security and counter-terrorism efforts.

"Russian officials have repeatedly stated that they have relationships with the Taliban, and it is quite obvious," Afghan Ministry of Defence spokesman Dawlat Waziri told Salaam Times.

"Assisting the Taliban means helping terrorism and extremism," he said. "The only way to effectively fight terrorism is by helping the Afghan government."

"If a country wishes to help Afghanistan throughout the peace process, then it has to establish relationships only with the legitimate government of Afghanistan and not with terrorist groups," said Waziri.

"Any help provided by any country to the Taliban or to any other terrorist group will be considered an act of utter hostility towards the public as well as towards the government," he said, adding that the exact nature of Russia's involvement with the Taliban is unclear.

"We do not have any evidence showing that Russia actually provides financial and arms support to the Taliban," he said.

Evidence of arms support

Russia's relationship with the Taliban started in 2014 in Kulyab, Tajikistan, where Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, a Taliban shadow governor of Kunduz Province, met with Russian officials, said Muhammad Omar Safi, an ex-governor of Kunduz.

"Support provided by the Russians to the Taliban led to the fall of Kunduz city to the Taliban twice," Safi told Salaam Times. "In fact, for the past two years, Russia has been supporting the Taliban and providing it with weapons, and it still does."

Kabul does have detailed evidence of Russian financial and arms support for the Taliban, he said, contradicting Waziri, and adding, "The Afghan government refuses to make these documents public since it does not want to sour Afghanistan's relationship with the Russians."

"Russia has provided the Taliban with sniper rifles and rocket launchers," said Safi, adding, "Taliban snipers have killed many troops in Kunduz Province."

Moreover, Russia is able to spy inside Afghan territory from Tajikistan, he said.

"Russia has activated a system on the Tajik-Afghan border that not only can monitor 400km inside Afghan territory with cameras but can eavesdrop too," he said.

Ties to Haqqani Network

Other Afghan officials backed up Safi's accusations against Russia.

"In addition to having relationships with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the Kremlin provides these terrorist groups with weapons and equipment," an Afghan security source told Salaam Times on the condition of anonymity.

"About six months ago, a Russian delegation met with the Haqqani Network," he said. "During this meeting, the Russians agreed to send on a monthly basis weapons and other combat equipment to the Haqqani Network."

"There are 15 Russian military advisers in Kunduz and Badakhshan provinces assisting the Taliban," the source said. "The Russians even have provided the Taliban with [various] rifles."

Fighting ISIS

"The Russians' support for the Taliban is clear interference in Afghanistan's affairs, which is intolerable to parliament," Zakaria Zakaria, a member of parliament from Kabul, told Salaam Times.

"Through diplomatic channels, the [Afghan] government must discuss this issue with Russia and express Afghanistan's concerns," he said.

"The Russians are using ISIS as an excuse to support the Taliban, [but this ruse] thwarts the efforts of the Afghan government and international community to fight terrorism and bring peace."

Kremlin engagement with insurgents is benign, said Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Alexander Mantytskiy.

"We have ties with the Taliban to ensure the security of our political offices, consulates and the security of Central Asia," he said last December, according to AFP.

"Our concern is that [ISIS] not only threatens Afghanistan, but it is also a potent threat to Central Asia, Pakistan ... India and even Russia," said Mantytskiy, also in December, according to TOLO News.

"This public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact but is used ... to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents," Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO's Resolute Support Mission Afghanistan, said in December, according to Voice of America, denouncing the "malign influence" of external powers.

An act of hostility

"Russia's aiding and equipping the Taliban are an act of hostility towards our people and government," Afghan military analyst Sayyed Mohammad Amin told Salaam Times. "Moreover, the Russians' relationship with the Taliban means a relationship with terrorism."

"Russia's relationship and co-operation with the Taliban will result in greater insecurity in the country," he said. "It undermines the Afghan security forces in their fight against terrorism."

Russia's support of the Taliban, though, has led some militants to join the Afghan peace process in disgust rather than be perceived as Russian puppets.

Taliban supreme commander Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada receives direct Russian support, said two Taliban leaders -- Khan Mohammad Cherik and Mullah Sabawoon -- who joined the peace process in Balkh Province in April.

The Taliban-Russian relationship was the major reason for them to join the peace process, they told Salaam Times at the time.

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