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The Taliban movement has changed, says Russian Presidential envoy for Afghanistan

Zamir Kabulov

Zamir Kabulov   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Zamir Kabulov says India’s policy of avoiding any engagement with the militants has had its day

In an exclusive interview with The Hindu, Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special presidential envoy for Afghanistan, and head of the second Asia department in the Russian foreign ministry, pointed out that “New Delhi’s policy of avoiding any engagement with the Taliban has had its day, especially in view of the upcoming launch of intra-Afghan talks and eventual transformation of the Taliban movement into an influential legal political force in Afghanistan.”
 

Mr. Kabulov’s remarks follow the advocacy of U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, that India and Taliban should hold direct talks as stated during an exclusive interview earlier with The Hindu.
 

Mr. Kabulov, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, fully endorsed the February 29, peace agreement between Washington and Taliban, which was signed in Doha.   “We commend the signing of an agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban movement that took place in Doha on February 29, 2020, and are convinced that it paves the way for finding a lasting settlement of the situation in Afghanistan.”
 

The veteran Russian diplomat also spotlighted that the “Taliban movement has changed”.
 

“There are multiple reasons for that. First and foremost, the Taliban has had enough time to learn from its mistakes. As we can see, it has abandoned some radical and Jihadist principles.”
 

The senior Russian diplomat said that Taliban’s policy of “ good neighbourhood relations” was behind the recent feelers sent by the movement to open communication channels with India, and the possibility of its willingness to accept Kashmir as India's internal affair. “I doubt that it is a tactical manoeuvre (by Taliban); rather, it is a strategic vision,” Mr. Kabulov observed.
 

Full text of the interview:

Afghanistan appears to have reached another turning point, with the impending withdrawal of U.S. forces along with the likelihood of an intra-Afghan reconciliation dialogue. In your view, are there any grounds for optimism about Afghanistan's future?

There are grounds for optimism about the future for sure. We commend the signing of an agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban movement that took place in Doha on February 29, 2020, and are convinced that it paves the way for finding a lasting settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. We see that both sides — the U.S. and the Taliban — are interested in fulfilling this agreement and launching intra-Afghan peace talks as soon as possible.

Much will depend, however, on Kabul, namely, on how quickly the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be able to complete the prisoner exchange with the Taliban by releasing 5,000 Taliban detainees for 1,000 soldiers and establish a negotiating team that the Taliban will be willing to engage in a dialogue with.

What are the main obstacles, domestic and external, in making make the intra-Afghan dialogue successful?

The main prerequisite for a successful intra-Afghan dialogue is the willingness of the warring parties to negotiate with a view to bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan. In this regard, Russia welcomes the recent mutual three-day ceasefire by the Taliban and Kabul as a confidence-building measure. However, as I have already mentioned, there are two major obstacles at the moment impeding the launch of the intra-Afghan talks: completion of the prisoner exchange and establishment of a negotiating team by Kabul. It is possible that once the negotiating process is launched, new difficulties will emerge. The dialogue between the warring parties will not be easy, but with a firm mutual commitment to reaching an agreement, the success will be achieved sooner or later.

Has the Taliban changed? Is it different from the Taliban of the mid-1990s? If so, what are the grounds for that change?

The Taliban movement has changed. There are multiple reasons for that. First and foremost, the Taliban has had enough time to learn from its mistakes. As we can see, it has abandoned some radical and jihadist principles. For instance, the Taliban now underlines that it is interested in maintaining constructive and good neighbourhood relations with all regional countries. The recent statement by the Taliban spokesman about non-interference in the internal affairs of other States issued with respect to the fake publications about the Taliban supporting Pakistan’s position on Kashmir is a good example.

At one point, Russia was criticised for engaging with the Taliban. Why did you start talking to Taliban, and whom were you talking with, which faction of the Taliban were you talking with?

We have maintained and keep maintaining contacts with the Taliban to fulfil two tasks: ensure safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan and encourage the Taliban to engage in a dialogue with the Afghan authorities and other political forces with a view to achieving lasting peace in the country. Our dialogue partner is the Taliban’s Political Office in Doha that is, as far as we know, mandated by the Taliban leadership to carry out external relations.

The Americans, your country, the Iranians and the Chinese, at some point, started talking to the Taliban. But India apparently did not. Do you think India missed a trick by not engaging with the Taliban, while keeping a close relationship with the government in Kabul?

The United States, Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan were not the only ones to establish contacts with the Taliban movement. Many Western and Asian partners of Afghanistan maintain ties with the Taliban’s Political Office in Doha.

I believe that New Delhi’s policy of avoiding any engagement with the Taliban has had its day, especially in view of the upcoming launch of intra-Afghan talks and eventual transformation of the Taliban movement into an influential legal political force in Afghanistan.

The Taliban is sending feelers that they want to open a channel of communication with India, and even signalled that they are willing to accept Kashmir as India's internal affair. Is this a strategic decision or a tactical manoeuvre? What are the internal factors inside the Taliban that are bringing about this change?

I believe that all these facts fall within the policy of good neighbourhood relations proclaimed by the Taliban. I doubt that it is a tactical manoeuver; rather, it is a strategic vision.

In this regard, I would like to note that the Taliban leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, clearly indicated in his message on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr the Taliban’s willingness to strengthen constructive relations with all regional countries.”

Can you spell out Russia's geo-economic vision of Afghanistan within the framework of Eurasia's rise? How can resource rich Afghanistan fit  within the framework of the International North South Corridor or the Chabahar route?

In our view, it will be possible to talk about Afghanistan’s economic integration in the regional transport and energy infrastructure, including within the framework of the International North-South Corridor or other projects, only after achieving a sustainable peace settlement in the country.

That said, we hope that all regional and international partners will contribute substantially to the post-conflict economic recovery of Afghanistan.

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2020 5:35:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/the-taliban-movement-has-changed-says-russian-presidential-envoy-for-afghanistan/article31761493.ece

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