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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 46, New Delhi, October 30, 2021

Moscow Format Conference: Hoping For Solution On Afghanistan | R G Gidadhubli

Friday 29 October 2021

by R.G.Gidadhubli *

October 25, 2021

On the 20th of October 2021, Russia organized Moscow Format Conference to make efforts to deal with problem in Afghanistan. A high level Taliban delegation attended the Conference apart from officials from eight other countries including China, Central Asia, India and Pakistan. The Indian side was represented by joint secretary J P Singh and Joint Secretary (Eurasia) Adarsh Swaika. The Conference was not attended by the USA. The Taliban delegation at the talks was headed by the group’s acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi and also acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. As reported by TASS, the Moscow Format Conference was one of the most significant international meeting since Taliban seized control of Kabul from the internationally recognized government on the 15th August. Some of the highlights are as follows.

Firstly, even as the Russian Government has not officially recognized the Taliban government, Russia has moved to engage with the Taliban and has been hosting its representatives in Moscow several times in recent years, but has stopped short of recognizing the group, which is considered a banned terrorist organization within Russia. As per reports the Russian ambassador to Kabul, Dmitry Zhirnov has stated that the issue of recognizing the Taliban-led government was not to be discussed at the meeting. At the same time the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Russia appreciated and recognized the Taliban’s "efforts to stabilize the military and political situation and set up work of the state apparatus," as extremist groups such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda were trying to "take advantage" of instability.

Secondly, Afghanistan has common border with Central Asian Countries which have close political and economic ties with Russia being part of the former Soviet Union. Afghanistan has been inhabited by several ethnic communities from Central Asia. For instance, Tajik ethnic community accounts for about one-third of population of Afghanistan. Hence Lavrov was firm in his observation that Moscow considers the formation of a "truly inclusive" government in Kabul as the only way to bring "stable peace" to the country. In fact the formation of an "inclusive government" in Kabul has been on the agenda.

Thirdly, Russia has been aware of the prevailing unstable political and social conditions in Afghanistan as also economic crisis. Moreover, Russia is concerned about the problems arising and spreading from the country. Russia‚Äôs main aim of the meeting was to consolidate the "efforts of the international community to prevent a humanitarian crisis" in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover.

Fourthly, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid requested the representatives of the participant countries for economic assistance and political support. He was candid in staging "Naturally, the conference will focus on economic and political issues, as well as on the problems of security in the region and in Afghanistan."

Fifth, Russia and Central Asian countries are worried about security threats emanating from the war-torn Afghanistan, which has several terrorist groups active in the country. On this issue the Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the Islamic State (IS) extremist group has about two thousand militants in northern Afghanistan, and claimed that the alleged IS fighters planned to move between ex-Soviet Central Asian countries disguised as refugees in order to stir up religious and ethnic discord. Russia is also well aware of drug trafficking spreading from Afghanistan since it is one of the major producers of drugs in the world.

Sixth, leaders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan of Central Asia are aware of the fact that tens of thousands of refugees pour over the border and enter into their countries for security and survival. Hence the concern of Russia and Central Asian countries is that terrorists might enter Central Asia under the guise of refugees and cause security threats. From security perspective, Russia staged military drills alongside ex-Soviet countries neighboring Afghanistan, and reinforced equipment at a military base in Tajikistan to secure security of Central Asian countries.

Thus looking back into history, as opined by some analysts, Moscow fought a disastrous war in Afghanistan in the 1980s that killed up to 2 million Afghans, forced 7 million more from their homes, and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet troops. The USA and Western countries were critical and blamed the former Soviet leaders. Coming to the present context, Russia is also critical of the fact that while the USA was holding power in Afghanistan for 20 years, withdrew from the country in August 2021 without fully solving political and economic problems which has resulted in geo-political crisis at the global level. The Moscow Format is an effort by Russia to find some solution to the on-going problem.

(Author: Dr R.G.Gidadhubli is Professor and Former Director Center For Central Eurasian Studies University Of Mumbai, Mumbai)

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