HERAT -- Hundreds of residents and civil society activists gathered in the provinces of Herat, Baghlan and Badakhshan in the past week to condemn Moscow's interference in Afghan affairs and its efforts to derail the peace process.
More than 200 residents of Herat city including young people and women chanted anti-Russia slogans at a protest on Monday (July 13).
The Russian regime is seeking to destabilise Afghanistan and damage the peace process by supporting groups such as the Taliban by supplying them weapons, said the protesters.
"We condemn Russian interference and their support to the Taliban," said Feroz Ahmad Behzad, a civil society activist in Herat city and one of the organisers of the gathering.
"The United States has created the opportunity for intra-Afghan peace talks at a huge cost, but Russia blatantly supports the Taliban and is trying to scuttle the peace process so that the bloodshed continues in Afghanistan," he said.
The Russian regime covertly offered rewards for successful attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan last year amid US-led peace negotiations to end the war between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the New York Times reported June 26.
"We're concerned about Russia's direct interference in our country, and we call on the international community, especially the United Nations, to prevent this interference," said Behzad.
Support and weapons provided to the Taliban by the Russian and neighbouring regimes have helped the militant group become stronger and allows it to continue to kill innocent civilians every day, said Omaid Iman, a resident of Herat city.
"Afghanistan has been at war for many years because of Russia and some neighbouring countries' [interference]," he added. "With these protests, we call on these countries to stop interfering in Afghanistan."
"Weapons and equipment that the Taliban leave behind in every clash are made in Russia, which shows that Russia is one of the Taliban's main supporters in the region," Iman said.
Separately, about 50 residents of Baghlan Province gathered in Pul-i-Khumri on July 12 to protest Russian interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs, blaming Moscow for drawing out the war and slowing down peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.
Osman Sherzai, a civil society activist in Baghlan Province, accused Moscow of financing and arming the Taliban. Afghans will achieve a permanent peace if Moscow refrains from supporting the insurgents, he said.
"Our information shows that the Taliban have been equipped with modern weapons and night-vision binoculars," Sherzai said at the gathering. "Who is providing this equipment [to the Taliban]? It is obvious it is Russia."
"Russia and Iran don't want the political crisis to end in Afghanistan because these countries have interests in the proxy war in Afghanistan," he added.
At a protest in Faizabad on Sunday (July 12), more than 200 residents of Badakhshan Province accused Moscow of providing political and military support to terrorist groups, in particular the Taliban.
The government responded positively to the Taliban by releasing thousands of prisoners, and now the Taliban have no excuse in continuing to fight, Sabrullah Saqib, leader of the Badakhshan Peace Caravan and one of the participants of the protest, told reporters.
"We call on the UN [United Nations] Security Council to stop countries in the region, especially Russia and Iran, from interfering in the Afghan peace process," said Saqib.
Efforts to disrupt the peace process
One of Moscow's goals in supporting the Taliban is to undermine the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban, say Afghan observers.
That is because peace and stability in Afghanistan run contrary to the aims of the Russian regime, and as a result it continues to finance and arm the Taliban and other terrorist groups, they say.
After the United States and the Taliban signed the peace agreement in February, incidents of violence and terrorist attacks spiked in Afghanistan, which shows that various regimes, including Russia and Iran's, provide financing and weapons to the Taliban in an effort to scuttle the peace agreement, said Abdul Qader Kamel, a political affairs analyst in Herat city.
"Russia wants to take revenge on the United States and NATO in Afghanistan," he said. "During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States had a key role in defeating the Soviet Union as it supported the Afghan people and the mujahedeen," he said.
"The Kremlin doesn't want the United States to end the Afghan war in a peaceful way or pave the way for a responsible withdrawal of its troops," he said. "The Russian government thinks that it can defeat the US forces in Afghanistan by continuing to support the Taliban."
Moscow is arming and financing anti-Afghan government groups engaged in fighting with the US, the international coalition and Afghan forces, agreed Muhammad Ibrahim Haqjo, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"With Moscow paying the Taliban to kill American forces in Afghanistan, it shows that Russia and the Taliban have close ties and that the Taliban receive most of their weapons and ammunition from Russia," he added.
If the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban succeeds, Russian interference in Afghanistan would end, he said.
Such an outcome is unacceptable to the Kremlin, Haqjo said.
An old enemy
A number of Herat residents, including those who lost loved ones during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, said they consider the Russian regime an heir of the Soviet Union and therefore an enemy of the Afghan people.
"Russians continue to ignore the heinous crimes they committed in Afghanistan, and the regime continues to be responsible for the killing of innocent Afghans," said Razia Faiq, a resident of Guzara District in Herat.
"We Afghans will never forget the crimes of the former Soviet Union," she said. "The signs of Soviet crimes are still visible in every Afghan city and village."
"Instead of supporting the Taliban, Russia should provide compensation to Afghans for the crimes they committed more than three decades ago in Afghanistan," said Behroz Durrani, a resident of Herat city.
"One or even more members of every Afghan family either were killed or injured during the Soviet invasion," he said. "Afghans and history will never forget the scar Russians have left in their hearts. The Russian government is Afghanistan's old enemy, and Russia has never worked for Afghanistan's prosperity and development."
Moscow remains the main reason that the four-decade war continues in Afghanistan, said Sonita Mirzada, a resident of Herat city.
"The war and destruction of Afghanistan began with the Soviet invasion, and still they continue," she said. "If the Russians hadn't invaded Afghanistan, we wouldn't have war and bloodshed in Afghanistan, and Afghans could live in peace like citizens of other countries."
The Afghan people will never forgive Russia, and it will remain an old enemy worthy of Afghans' hatred, she said.