Russian Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov is one of the most distinguished diplomats of Kremlin with vast experience in Afghan affairs stretching from the 1980s till now. He has served as Russia’s ambassador to Kabul during 2004-‘09 and is the driving force behind the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan. He answered questions from The Hindu on various aspects of the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Do you think the Taliban are serious when they say that terror groups will not be allowed to target neighboring countries?
The threat of the spread of terrorism from Afghanistan to neighboring countries undoubtedly remains in our focus. Russia as well as other regional countries are ready to assist the Afghan side in tackling this issue. We see that the Taliban forces are doing serious job to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups in the country, although they are still far from solving the problem as a whole. Unfortunately, several terrorist acts have been committed recently, including at the Russian Embassy in Kabul in September.
Can the international community or even the members of the Moscow Format of consultations on Afghanistan trust Taliban to be a responsible partner to contain international terrorism?
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that during the 4th meeting of the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan (Moscow, November 16) the participants underscored a special importance of countering terrorist threat emanating from the Afghan territory. The Joint Statement of the Moscow Format strongly recommended Afghanistan“to fulfil its commitments to eradicate terrorism and drug trafficking emanating from its territory, take more visible steps against all terrorist organizations, and to firmly fight, dismantle and eliminate them, so as to ensure that Afghanistan would never again serve as a breeding ground, safe haven or source of proliferation for terrorism”.
Once again, it is worth paying tribute to the counterterrorism measures taken by the Taliban government, but we believe them to be insufficient. We emphasize it in our contacts with Kabul.
Is Taliban willing to negotiate around security obligations as was indicated in the Moscow Format?
First of all, I would like to note that the Taliban welcomed the outcomes of the Moscow Format meeting and supported statements by the participants regarding facilitation of peaceful post-conflict development of Afghanistan,unacceptability of the use of the Afghan territory to threaten any country andset upmilitary infrastructure in Afghanistan by any third country. As for the latter, this is a legitimate demand of any state, which is based on the principle of noninterference indomestic affairs.
In this context, Russia, for instance, is particularly concerned about the attempts still undertaken by the USA to anyhow get back the capabilities to control and influence the processes undergoing in Afghanistan, including by means of establishing its military infrastructure in neighboring countries. However, to be honest, Washington could make more meaningful contributionif it had unfrozen the Afghan financial assets, which are essential for the Taliban authorities including for building up its counterterrorist capacity.
Do you think that Taliban has total control over Afghanistan?
The objective reality is that the Taliban controls almost all the territory of Afghanistan. An interim government has been formed, and it is functioning. Alternativeopposition forces are not competitive to the Taliban. Terrorist groups (such as ISIS, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jamaat Ansarullah, etc.) are still active in the North, the East and in other parts of the state.It is true that representatives of religious or ethnic minorities often become victims of terrorist attacks, first of all, by ISIS. Explosions took place in Shiah areas and near a Sikh Gurudwara.
What is the Russian position on Taliban seeking international recognition?
We see that in fact it is already happening: representatives of the Taliban government participate, representing Afghanistan, in multilateral regional meetings and international conferences such as the 3rd meeting of the Moscow Format Consultations (October 20, 2021), the Tunxi Initiative of the Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan (March 31, 2022) and the Tashkent International Conference (July 25-26, 2022).
As for the UN, we consider it inappropriate if the positionof the Permanent Representative of Afghanistanis further occupied by Mr Faiq, Charge d’Affaires of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,since he neither represents the interests of the current Afghan authorities, nor the former regime.In particular, in March 2022 on behalf of Afghanistan he joined the anti-Russian resolution in the UN General Assembly (“Aggression against Ukraine”, March 2, 2022), while a group of old-regime Ambassadors indicated that his position was not coordinated with them while he also ignored the traditional principles of the Afghani foreign policy.
In fact, we note that the Taliban as an organization is not considered as a terrorist group by the UN. The sanctions of the UN Security Council apply only to individual Taliban functionaries.
As for the prospects for official international recognition of the Taliban regime, it will depend on whether Kabul implements the following conditions: completion of the process of inter-Afghan reconciliation, formation of truly inclusive power structures reflecting the interests of all key ethno-political forces of the country, efficient efforts to eradicate terrorist and drug threats, respect for basic principles ofhuman rights.
There are deep divisions and distrust among members of Moscow Format on Talibanbased on past experiences – for example India and Pakistan – can the Moscow Format work as a cohesive body to engage Afghanistan and Taliban?
We believe that the Moscow Format fully copes with the task to coordinate positions and efforts of all participating countries on the most crucial issues of the agenda in Afghanistan. As our joint work within the framework of the recent fourth meeting of the Moscow Format demonstrated, this platform allows almost all regional countries to sitat the same negotiating table and discuss vital topics, regardless of the problems in their bilateral relations, be it India and Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, etc.
Do you think there is a necessity to convene a meeting of all the Afghan ethnic and religious groups – including the Taliban to start the process of intra-Afghan dialogue and what role can India play in convening such a meeting?
In our opinion, the lack of ethno-political inclusiveness of the current leadership of Afghanistan is the main deterrent to the official international recognition of the government of the Taliban. The coming of the Taliban to power, indeed, was not carried out through negotiations, but it would be wrong to say that the Taliban did not participate in any way in the inter-Afghan dialogue. The previously mentioned Moscow Format was the first international platform, which gave the Taliban an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment for peace talks in November 2018 in the presence of regional and international actors.
The Republican team of former President Ashraf Ghani was in power that time, and it did not want to follow persistent calls for the launch of a productive political process, which was supposed to incorporate the Taliban in governmental structures. We all know how all this ended for Ashraf Ghani. Now the Afghan sides have in fact switched their positions. And the issue of inter-Afghan settlement still remains relevant.
How to find a solution – through broadly representative inter-Afghan consultations, a Loya Jirga or something else – is up to the Afghan people themselves to decide. Russia is ready to provide necessary assistance in this regard if such a signal comes from Kabul. We are convinced that India’s role in it will also be required.