In his address to the 43rd meeting of the Council of Heads of Security and Intelligence Agencies of the Community of Independent States (CIS) on Dec.19, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for improving interaction to counter the growing threat of terrorism. The president said closer cooperation was needed to prevent the militants leaving Syria from wreaking havoc in Central Asia as they were coming home. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Russia's Federal Security Service, said numbers of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan could grow after the group’s defeat in Syria and Iraq.
Russia does not desert its friends in trouble. In mid-December, the 201st Military Base in Tajikistan was inspected to assess its combat readiness. Lieutenant General Alexander Lapin, the Commander of the Central Military District appointed in late November, oversaw the gratuitous transfer of weapons and equipment to Tajik military. He said it was the time for Russia and Tajikistan to join forces against the incumbent menace.
The Tajik army received three T-72B1 tanks, nine armored vehicles (BTR-80, BTR-70 and BMP-2), three D-30 howitzers, three 23М1 anti-aircraft guns, several Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters, large quantities of small arms and auxiliary equipment. In 2017, Moscow provided Dushanbe with a gratis military aid package valued at over $122 million – a sum comparable with the annual defense budget of Tajikistan. Roughly a thousand Tajik military go through training at the 201st base. 560 Tajik cadets receive training in Russian military schools. The training is also provided gratuitously.
The Russian-Tajik military cooperation illustrates the effectiveness and viability of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In future, Russia will contribute to increasing combat capability of Tajik forces deployed at the border with Afghanistan. If Tajikistan is attacked, a joint operation of CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (CRRF) will be a possibility as confirmed by Combat Brotherhood 2017 exercise held last month. The CSTO has become a key instrument for countering regional challenges. The situation in Afghanistan is critical enough to justify urgent steps taken to enhance the capability to respond. The time is not wasted as Russia and its Central Asian prepare to fend the threat off.
According to Zamir Kabulov, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan and Foreign Ministry's Director of the Second Asian Department, peace talks between Kabul and Taliban are possible. During the meeting of the International Contact Group for Afghanistan in Oslo, which took place earlier in December, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai announced Kabul's plans to work out a roadmap for peace settlement with the Taliban. Only six months ago the Afghan government ruled out any talks with the group. Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar has asked Russia to act as a mediator and persuade the Taliban to take a seat at the round table. On Dec.6, an Afghan government-mandated peace council urged the Taliban to open an office in Kabul and take part in peace talks to end the country’s 16-year war. The council wouldn’t set any pre-conditions for negotiations and will let the insurgent group choose its own preferred methods for paving the way to negotiations. So far, the Taliban has flatly refused to negotiate with NATO but it never said it would not accept Moscow as a mediator.
Russia believes that all parties, except the extremist Islamic State group, can take part in peace efforts. Moscow is ready for cooperation with Washington on Afghanistan and maintains regular contacts with US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells. Russian President Putin said during the latest 'Direct Line' annual call-in session on Dec. 14 that the cooperation on Afghanistan is the area where Russia could join efforts with the United States and jointly seek stabilization in Afghanistan.
If Russia succeeds in its role as a mediator, it would be a giant step forward to end the 16-year old war that neither the UN, nor the West, could put an end to. Organizing peace talks to include all parties involved in a conflict requires consummate diplomatic skills. It’s a tall order, but it’s worth trying.
Russia, Iran and Turkey announced on. December 22 that a fourth track of peace talks will open in in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi in January 2018. The UN and the Syrian opposition have acknowledged the new peace push. The parties agreed to hold the so-called Congress for National Dialogue in Sochi on January 29-30. The process envisages "the participation of all segments of the Syrian society." There is a real chance that 2018 will become the year of diplomatic breakthrough on Syria and Afghanistan. Russia diplomacy based on common sense, the logic of peace, and rejection of power politics appears to bear fruit and do what nobody else could. A light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to appear as Moscow intensifies its diplomatic efforts.