Russian President Vladimir Putin believes the situation in Afghanistan causes concern and urgent steps should be taken to tackle the problem.
According to him, decisive actions were needed to rebuild the war-torn country and defeat terrorism. "In more general terms, our country is willing to develop such formats of interaction in the above-mentioned region that would allow responding swiftly to emerging security challenges, jointly seeking for ways to address potential threats," he said in an interview before the recent BRICS summit.
Moin Mrastyal, an Afghan analyst on international security believes Russia is trying to develop regional consensus to counter the growing terrorist threat and this effort should be welcomed.
The president’s remarks came after Taliban militants have increased their scale of attacks recently in a bid to capture more territory across the country. The group is fighting Afghan security forces in the provinces of Helmand, Farah, Baghlan and Kunduz.
The Russia’s concern is substantiated. The situation in Afghanistan poses a direct threat for the country’s national security. The spread of instability from Afghanistan spreads to the Central Asian states neigbouring Russia. At least 2 thousand militants operating in the Afghan northern provinces come from the countries that were part of the Soviet Union. The majority of them belong to regional extremist groups, like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, that moved to Afghanistan in the 1990s and 2000s. There is a growing risk of extremist attacks on the states allied with Russia. Militants with combat experience received in Syria have already been spotted in the Uzbek Fergana Valley. On October 18, the Russia’s peacekeeping brigade was put on alert during a snap inspection.
This unit is destined to operate on the territories of CIS states, especially in Central Asia.
The infiltration of Islamic State (IS) into Afghanistan threatens the Russian North Caucasus and the Volga region. Afghan heroin kills 25,000 Russians annually.
The prospects for progress in Afghanistan are dim at best. The situation may destabilize dramatically in the near future. The administration in Kabul lacks unity while the clout of regional leaders and warlords is growing. Inter-ethnic tensions are deepening. The Taliban has declared the start of a new fighting season along with IS intensifying combat actions. With fighting under way in 24 of the 34 provinces, the government’s ability to control the country is questioned. The prospect of a future coalition government, including the Taliban, seems to be more of a pipe dream. The UN says 7 million people in Afghanistan need aid. 2.2 million of them suffer from malnutrition. Poverty and unemployment prompt young Afghans to join extremist groups.
Things got worse this month. On October 3, on the eve of a conference of international donors in Brussels, Taliban fighters recaptured the northern city of Kunduz. The city was seized by the group a year ago. It took a lot of time and effort to recapture it. The Taliban managed to do it again and retreated only after the arrival of Afghan special forces and NATO military who call themselves “advisers”. At about the same time Kunduz was attacked, the Taliban also launched an attack in the province of Helmand to get hold of a district on the edge of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. In Helmand the militants control 11 districts out of 13. Government forces are stretched thin. Morale is poor as a result of casualties and poor leadership.
According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Western-backed Afghan government has lost control of nearly 5 percent of its territory to the Taliban since the beginning of this year.
The report says the area under Afghan government "control or influence" decreased to 65.6 percent by the end of May from 70.5 percent last year, based on data provided by US forces in Afghanistan. That amounts to a loss of 19 of the country's approximately 400 governing districts.
In 2016, The US President Barack Obama relaxed the rules of engagement for NATO’s 13,000-strong “train, advise and assist” mission to allow it to intervene militarily in ongoing clashes. Air support has increased and NATO advisers are often seen in forward battle areas. After 15 years since the US launched the longest war in its history, it is still involved in the conflict with no prospects for ultimate withdrawal.
Russia and NATO had cooperated in Afghanistan. There was also a NATO transit center near Ulyanovsk in Russia, and a program of common training for the prevention of drug trade in Central Asia. The cooperation was suspended after Crimea became part of the Russian Federation in 2014.
Analyzing details, there are some signs that Russia-NATO cooperation in Afghanistan can be relaunched.
The Afghan government is calling for the resumption of the process.
Addressing the fifth conference on international security, hosted by the Ministry of Defense of Russian Federation in April, Hamid Karzai said: “From my experience as the president of Afghanistan for 14 years in the subsequent events there is only one way for a real effective campaign against terrorism and extremism that is sincere cooperation between the United States and its allies with Russia, China and India.” According to him, “The United States and its allies will not achieve its objectives in the current circumstances without seeking the help of Russia, China, India and Iran.”
This news has not hit media headlines, but the US has partially lifted sanctions against Russian cooperation with Afghanistan on helicopter maintenance with Russia’s Rosoboronexport, the country’s state agency for exports/imports of defense-related and dual-use products. The Afghan government badly needs the Russian rotary rotary-wing aircraft to repel Taliban and IS attacks. It has formally asked the Russian government to start the deliveries.
It serves Washington’s interests to beef up Afghan government’s defense capability. Like in other cases, for instance the acquisition of Russian technology for its space program, the US comfortably forgets about anti-Russian sanctions.
If Russia delivers its helicopters aviation equipment to Afghanistan, as it is asked to, it will need to train Afghan pilots. It means Russia and the NATO will be in the same boat involved in logistics supplies and training of Afghan military personnel. It will be nothing else, but an example of cooperation. Want it or not, NATO needs Russia to tackle the problem.
An urgent international effort is needed over the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The Russian president is right – with the world attention riveted on Syria, Afghanistan should not be forgotten. The developments in the country prompt resumption of Russia-NATO cooperation. According to the statements of Russian officials, Moscow is ready to start talks.
It’s up to NATO to make its move. There is a very important problem to be discussed within the framework of Russia-NATO Council to be held till the end of this year. It should be done. After all, its NATO, nor Russia, who is responsible for the dire situation in the war-torn country.