Russia’s role in promoting inclusive governance and counterterrorism in Afghanistan
by Andrew Korybko on 29 Jun 2023 0 Comment

As a neutral actor, Russia aims to balance regional interests and prevent the expansion of US-backed terrorist groups. This approach, coupled with socio-economic reconstruction efforts, could reduce extremism and benefit Afghanistan’s impoverished population. While cautious not to pose a challenge to neighbouring countries’ security, Russia’s engagement aims to incentivize the Taliban’s commitment to ethno-political inclusivity and women’s rights.


Russian Special Presidential Representative on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told RTVI in an interview that Moscow could help Kabul repair and maintain its Soviet-era armoured vehicles and artillery. In his words, “For the most part [these weapons] are Soviet-style, although [the Afghan regime] has a large stockpile of arsenals inherited from the fleeing Americans. There is such an interest [in cooperation with Russia], but I would not say that it has acquired practical forms. In principle, this possibility remains.”


This is the clearest confirmation yet that the Taliban, which is still banned by Moscow but is nevertheless pragmatically engaged with as Afghanistan’s de facto rulers, envisages Russia becoming its top strategic partner. They already set the basis for strategic economic relations late last summer so it’s only natural that military-technical ties would inevitably be discussed. From their perspective, Russia is a neutral country with no ulterior motives in their own and which can help them balance their neighbours.


Understanding the matter better


As for Russia, it’s primarily driven by security-centric goals related to bolstering the Taliban’s anti-terrorist capabilities, which can take both socio-economic but also obviously military-technical forms. Regarding the first, the gradual reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan can provide more opportunities for its largely impoverished people, which can reduce the appeal of extremist groups by preventing people from becoming so desperate that they turn to them out of an absence of economic choice.


On the subject of military-technical ties, these are needed to ensure that the Taliban can stop the expansion of US-backed terrorist groups in the country. About that, Kabulov also said during his interview that the US wants “to create a belt of tension to put pressure on Russia through our allies in Central Asia, on China through Xinjiang, and, for obvious reasons, on Iran. This, in fact, is the purpose and objectives of such actions of the Anglo-Saxons.”


It therefore makes perfect sense for Russia to consider repairing and maintaining Afghanistan’s Soviet-era armoured vehicles and artillery, but likely only as a tangible reward for the group making good on its prior promises to form a truly ethno-politically inclusive government that respects women’s rights. Those regional stakeholders that have problems with the Taliban, namely Pakistan and most recently Iran, shouldn’t be alarmed if this happens since Russia isn’t inclined to sell them modern equipment.


All that’s potentially on the table is making sure that the equipment that the group already fields is capable of thwarting contemporary terrorist threats, which are increasingly becoming semi-conventional as proven by the ISIS precedent. Russia is obviously aware of how sensitive such military-technical ties with the Taliban would be, which is why it would refrain from doing anything that could be interpreted by either of those two neighbouring countries as posing a challenge to their national security interests.


Pakistan and Iran also don’t want Afghanistan to be riddled with US-cultivated terrorist threats, however, which is why they should appreciate the effort that Russia might eventually undertake in ensuring that its de facto rulers can effectively deal with all relevant security challenges. The carrot that Kabulov just dangled in his latest interview might not be enough on its own to entice the Taliban to finally make good on its prior promises, but it could form part of a larger package deal aimed at eventually achieving that.


To explain, the group’s factionalist rifts, Pashtun nationalist ideology, and fundamentalist religious interpretations impede its ability to form a truly ethnic-politically inclusive government that respects women’s rights. Doing so would actually go against everything that the Taliban had previously stood for and thus represent an internal revolution of sorts when it comes to their movement. Some members might always resist these changes out of principle, but many more could potentially be bought off.


No regional stakeholder is interested in throwing cash into the same country that swallowed an estimated $2.3 trillion from the US over the course of two decades since they’ve already seen how that approach was all for naught. Each of them wants tangible outcomes that advance their legitimate interests in ensuring Afghanistan’s sustainable socio-economic development and capability to defend itself from terrorist threats, which is why mutually beneficial deals are being discussed instead of bribery.


These reasonable calculations place last summer’s geo-economic talks between Russia and the Taliban into context as well as Kabulov’s latest hint that Moscow might seriously consider a military-technical deal with it too. Taken together, they constitute a package deal aimed at incentivizing the Taliban’s leading faction to find ways in which its internal rivals could benefit from these forms of cooperation in exchange for them agreeing to let the group make good on its prior socio-political promises.


It’s too early to tell whether this is enough to have that happen or if even more forms of promised cooperation are required, not to mention whether it’s possible to buy off recalcitrant Taliban members through these means in the first place, but the latest development is still a step in the right direction. It shows that Russia is playing the leading role in encouraging the Taliban to form a truly ethnic-politically inclusive government that respects women’s rights, which all regional stakeholders should appreciate.



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