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Taliban threat tops Moscow regional security meeting on Afghanistan

By Sergei Strokan
New Delhi, Feb 8: Less than two years after seizing power in Kabul, the Taliban movement, banned in Russia and unrecognized in the world, proved itself to emerge as a fast-growing power on the map of world terrorism, representing its rapidly developing Asian breed.

The question of whether the regional states can put aside their mutual distrust to come up with a collective response to the growing Afghan threat would top the agenda of the upcoming Moscow meeting of the Heads of the Security Councils of ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, India, Pakistan and China, slated for this week.

The fifth round of consultations of the Secretaries of the Security Councils will probably become the most dramatic in its history as the security situation in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating and has already lead to the closure of the several foreign embassies in Kabul.

The destabilization is also fueled by the mushrooming conflicts in the Taliban’s troubled relations with the leading powers of the Muslim world-Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

It should also be noted that the current meeting of the Heads of the Security Councils of regional states will gather in Moscow after a nine-month break. The previous round of consultations on Afghanistan, which was attended by the Secretaries of the Security Councils of India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, was held on May 27 last year in Dushanbe.

Prior to that, the heads of the Security Councils met on November 10, 2021 in New Delhi.

“The Secretaries of the Security Councils of regional powers have been invited to Moscow. These are Russia’s partners from Central Asia, as well as Pakistan, India, and China,” Zamir Kabulov, Special Representative of the Russia’s President in Afghanistan told TASS agency.

During the rule of the pro-Western Afghan government in Kabul, Zamir Kabulov was one of the most outspoken Russian critics of the pro-American regime of President Ghani, blaming it for many perils of Afghanistan. At the same time, Russian diplomats regarded the Taliban as the national interests-oriented force with a potential to put an end to the rule of alleged “American puppets” in Kabul.

It is highly symbolic that on the very day of the overthrow of President Ghani government, the Russian ambassador in Kabul appeared on Russian television, radiating hope and telling the audience that long-awaited calm and order had finally reigned in the Afghan capital-thanks to Taliban.

It is noteworthy that during the rule of President Ghani organizers of the regional meetings on Afghanistan held in so-called Moscow format didn’t invite representatives of the legitimate Afghan authorities, as well as representatives of India, while Pakistan was always on board. At that time the Moscow meetings were invariably attended by representatives of the Afghan elite with dubious reputation who were part of the inner circle of friends of Zamir Kabulov and pretended to act as «representatives of the Afghan people».

The Taliban’s victory has changed a lot.

Veterans of previous meetings, like ex-President Hamid Karzai, no longer appear in Moscow these days. At the same time, a new tango is danced in relations with the Taliban.

The Taliban did not participate in the consultations of the secretaries of the Security Councils in Dushanbe and New Delhi.

However, this circumstance did not prevent the new Afghan authorities from sending a strong signal on the eve of the current Moscow meeting that they consider their non-participation in regional consultations on Afghanistan to be an abnormal situation.

“The Islamic Emirate has not yet been invited, but at the meetings where Afghanistan is discussed, an Afghan representative should be present as a participant to shed light on the situation,” Zabihullah Mujahid, Deputy Minister of Culture and Information in the Taliban government, said last Sunday in an interview with the Afghan Tolo News channel.

Citing sources in the Afghan government, Tolo News reported that, despite the lack of an invitation, the Taliban hoped to come to the Russian capital this week to discuss the issue of recognition of the Kabul government.

In the meantime, the fifth round of regional consultations on Afghanistan will take place against the backdrop of increasing Western pressure on Kabul and the deterioration of relations between the new Afghan authorities and the countries of the Islamic world.

On the eve of the Moscow meeting State Secretary Blinken announced the introduction of visa restrictions for members of the leadership and activists of the Taliban movement for infringing on women’s rights.

However, the Taliban relations with the states of the Islamic world are also not in a good shape. As it became known last Sunday, the Saudi authorities refused to issue a visa to the Minister for Hajj Affairs in the Afghan government, Nur Mohammad Saqib. According to the Afghan media, the reason was Riyadh’s dissatisfaction with the fact that the Taliban imposed restrictions on education for girls.

Days before that Saudi diplomats accredited in Kabul hurriedly left Afghanistan on board a Kam Air plane. While there were no official explanations from the Saudi authorities, the Afghan media indicated that the departure of the diplomats could have been an expression of protest against the Taliban’s decision to ban Saudi embassy employees from performing their professional duties, as well as was triggered by worsening security situation.

According to the Al Arabia TV channel, following Saudi Arabia, several Arab and Western countries also decided to withdraw their diplomats from Kabul for security reasons.

However, the main disappointment for the authorities in Kabul was the continuing deterioration of relations with Pakistan, which for many years remained the main pillar of the Afghan Taliban.

After the Taliban came to power in Kabul Afghanistan turned into one of the main sources of threats to Pakistan’s security.

The security situation in Afghanistan was discussed last week at Moscow talks involving Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

“We have talked a lot about the situation in Afghanistan, it is directly related to the task of eliminating terrorist threats in our region. So far, unfortunately, this has not happened on the territory of Afghanistan, but efforts are being made, and we have agreed to use the opportunities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization for this purpose,” Sergey Lavrov said.

The fifth round of consultations of the Security Council secretaries scheduled in Moscow would be followed by another regional meeting on Afghanistan which is due to take place in Uzbekistan in March. “Uzbekistan wants to host a ministerial meeting of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries plus Russia in March. There are no dates yet. Special representatives will gather on the eve,” Zamir Kabulov said.

“The security situation in Afghanistan disappoints even the few rosy optimists in Moscow who initially pinned hopes on the ‘nationally oriented’ Taliban government. Less than two years later, the hopes faded away as the country was covered by a wave of terrorism. The Taliban regime is unable to provide security even in its capital. With the connivance, and sometimes with the assistance of the Taliban, the Islamic State terrorist group is gaining strength in the country. At the same time, unlike the Taliban, ISIS members see their future in expansion. They intend to spread their values to neighboring countries, including the republics of Central Asia,” Vadim Kozyulin, Head of the project “Security in Central Asia and Russia” at the Moscow-based analytical PIR Center, told India Narrative.

“In the wake of the new Afghan fighting season in Spring, the countries of the region will have to take urgent steps to neutralize newly-emerging threats. No doubt Afghanistan has become a source of headache for all regional neighbors, including its former mentors and sponsors,” Vadim Kozyulin adds.

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