Washington, July 2: Pakistan and Russia relations have become warmer in recent times due to the converging interests in Afghanistan as both countries have voice affirmation of cooperation and support to bring the Taliban into the mainstream, according to a report in US-based Foreign Policy.
Sajjan M Gohel, International Security Director for the Asia Pacific Foundation and Allison Bailey, a senior fellow at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, in the report, have written that along with Pakistan, Russia stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of any NATO withdrawal. In this way, Moscow will have an opportunity to step in Afghanistan.
They further said that with Western troops leaving, it will have devastating consequences for the civilian population, who rely and depend on them for their own
“For Russia to succeed in Afghanistan, it also needs to rectify a relationship with an old adversary: Pakistan was essential to the US strategy in Afghanistan in the 1980s by supplying weapons and providing logistics to the Afghan-Arab mujahideen. Converging interests in Afghanistan have been a key factor in warming relations between Russia and Pakistan, and both have voiced affirmations of cooperation and support to bring the Taliban into the mainstream,” Gohel and Bailey further wrote.
According to Gohel and Bailey, the commencement of US-Taliban peace talks in October 2018 was a political success for both Russia and Pakistan, which share a mutual recognition that the Taliban are a key stakeholder in Afghanistan’s future.
The interests of Russia and Pakistan continued to align following the breakdown of the U.S. Taliban peace talks. This was underscored in September last year, when Russia again invited Taliban members to Moscow.
At this meeting, Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, announced, “We are convinced that the complete end to foreign military presence is an inalienable condition of durable peace in Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan hosted Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation and the Taliban leadership for meetings in Islamabad.
While the Kremlin maintains that its relationship with the Taliban is limited only to fighting Islamic State and reconciliation within Afghanistan, its activities go much deeper, Gohel and Bailey said.
Russia has been accused of funding and arming the Taliban. Russian night-vision sniper scopes have been discovered in the hands of the Taliban.
In 2017, Gen John Nicholson, then-commander of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, revealed in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that Russia was actively funding the Taliban and therefore, by proxy, al Qaeda.
In 2018, Nicholson followed that up by stating, “We have had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and (they) said, ‘This was given by the Russians to the Taliban.’
There is also evidence that Russia has set up supply networks to deliver weapons across the border between Iran and Afghanistan,” the authors stated.
Gohel and Bailey said that the recent revelations in The New York Times and other media that US intelligence officials believed a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties to the Taliban for killing American and NATO forces in Afghanistan renew “deep concerns about the nefarious agenda Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not only in Afghanistan but also to destabilise the West”.
“The temporary relief in leaving the region will eventually give way to the stark reality that Western nationals will be travelling to Afghanistan for terrorist training. This will mirror the situation in Syria and Iraq with the Islamic State,” they wrote.
“However, this time the West will find it much harder to go back into Afghanistan with the crowded field of Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China, all of which will be very reluctant to let in anyone else. There is an emerging Great Game Redux in Afghanistan — and Russia is in it this time to win it,” they further said.