The emergence of the Islamic State group in the Middle East, and its affiliate group in Afghanistan, change many things, among them, speeded a change of the world’s perception to the Taliban insurgent group in Afghanistan. Last month, a senior Russian official said that the country was sharing information with the Taliban as the group is fighting the Islamic State militants. The statement angered many in Afghanistan, causing concerns over Moscow’s relations with the Taliban, an insurgent group that the US-led international coalition and Afghan government has been fighting about a decade and half. Reacting to the statement, the MPs in the Afghan parliament expressed concerns over Russia’s relations with the Taliban and called such contacts as interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. The MPs called on the government to ask clarifications from Moscow over the country’s cooperation with the Taliban.
The statement from Russian special envoy for Afghanistan indicated a significant shift in Russian view of the Taliban and Moscow’s consideration of the group as a terrorist group. Russia has had friendly relations with the Afghan government over the last fourteen years since the fall of the Taliban regime. And Moscow has been backing the US-led international coalition in the efforts to fight the Taliban and bring peace and stability in the country. The country is officially supporting the Afghan government in its efforts to overcome the insurgency in the country. The United States has said that the country is not worried over the statement, and is trying to work together with the Russians over Afghanistan. The Russian statement over the country’s cooperation with the Taliban came at a time while the Afghan government was fighting a bitter campaign against the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Russia is not believed to be alone in establishing back-channel relations with the main insurgent group in Afghanistan. The Afghan and US has long been accusing neighboring countries of backing the Taliban, and there have been media reports on such support for the Taliban. Last year, the Afghan government protested an alleged visit of a senior Taliban delegation to Tehran, during which the Taliban delegation and Iranian security officials reportedly talked about many issues including affairs in the Muslim world, security and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. In addition, it was reported that the Taliban members had visits to China and Norway as part of the efforts for resumption of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. However, it should also be noted that the Taliban had increased its diplomatic contacts with the world after the peace efforts last year took momentum. Russia has long been wary of the militants threatening the Central Asian states which are viewed as the backyard of the Russia. In order to counter influence of the militant groups attempting to penetrate into the Central Asia, Russia has been backing the Afghan government – and the international efforts for salvaging the country from the grip of the insurgency. Despite Russia’s concerns for security of Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan, Moscow was less concerned with the Taliban as the group is not promoting a global cross-border agenda. Emergence and expansion of the Islamic State group in the region and in Afghanistan was coming as a fresh threat for security and stability of the Central Asian states, as the group is seeking a global caliphate. Moscow has seemingly recalculated its strategic assessment of the conflict in Afghanistan, making the threat of Islamic State a top priority.
The relations between the Taliban and the outside world have undergone considerable changes. The group that once was demonized by both the Western alliance and the traditional regional powers such as Russia and Iran is now being accepted as an active movement in Afghanistan with expanding ties with the outside world. Many countries in the region now see the Taliban as a militant group capable of playing a crucial role in containing the influence of the Islamic State group. Given the nature of the relations between the West and Russia and taking into account the potential threats of the militant groups to stability of the Central Asia, an unexpected and unconventional response from Russia has been expected. Currently, the unconventional response from Russia is believed to be limited to, as the Zamir Kabulov has confirmed it, maintaining intelligence sharing cooperation with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The ongoing rivalry between world major powers and the conflict in the Middle East further compounds the puzzle of the militant players in Afghanistan and the region. The world major powers are increasingly failing to resolve the existing crises in the world, rather tend to take a divergent course over most of the crises in the world. Depending to the development of the events related to activities of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and the region, Russia, Iran and probably more countries in the region may increasingly turn to Taliban to help promote the group into a bulwark against the Islamic State group. if the current trend continues, there is a potential risk of a fracture in the common perception of the World and regional countries to the Taliban being a banned, illegitimate, insurgent group fighting the Afghan legitimate government. This would be a nightmarish scenario for the Afghan government. The Afghan government needs to promote a regional consensus on the world’s stance over the insurgency in Afghanistan through increased diplomatic efforts. The government also needs to do more to persuade the regional countries that it would the only viable partner for long-term stability in Afghanistan and the region. The government must prove itself a trustworthy security partner of the regional countries in the face of increasing and multi-faceted crises. The military efforts are not sufficient for winning the war. The government also needs to promote diplomatic efforts for seeking a shared regional approach over the conflict in Afghanistan.
By Abdul Ahad Bahrami -The Daily Outlook Afghanistan