With America stepping down from its involvement in Afghanistan, Russia is preparing for the future. On February 6-7, a conference organized presumably by the Afghan diaspora took place in Moscow's President Hotel that belongs to the presidential administration. The Russian Ministry provided "technical support". This is a follow up to the meeting organized by the Russian Foreign Ministry in November, 2018 where members of the Taliban's Doha office met with members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, a body that negotiates with the Taliban. [i]
In his February 5, 2019 column titled "It Is Necessary to Think Now Already about Post-American Afghanistan, Kommersant's observer Maxim Yusin commented on the conference and what Russia wanted to achieve in Afghanistan:[ii]
Maxim Yusin (Image: 1tv.ru)
"Another event in Moscow on Afghanistan is beginning in Moscow called" Conference of Afghan Politicians for a Settlement in the Country. Although it is officially maintained that the meeting is not being organized by the Russian authorities but by representatives of the Afghan diaspora, the very fact that recently, precisely Moscow has displayed immense activity on Afghanistan means that there is no point in denying it. A previous conference on Afghanistan took place quite recently in the Russian capital in November of the previous year.
"In this situation a few points appear surprising (and unexpected). First it is precisely Russia that is engaged in Afghanistan's pacification, although it does not border on that country, and as distinct from the NATO countries, does not currently have military contingents there. Meanwhile, the US that assumed the main burden of costs in the Afghanistan war is conducting itself much more modestly. The same can be said of Pakistan – the constant player in the internal Afghan conflicts over the last 40 years.
"Secondly, a surprising situation is emerging, with the presence in Moscow of a Taliban delegation both in November and now. The thing is that up to now the Taliban movement is officially banned in Russia, and that compels journalists seeking comments from the Taliban, to engage in a verbal balancing act. By law, the mass media, upon mentioning the Taliban, are also compelled to relate that in Russia the group is outside the law. That statement sounds quite rich in the storylines from the President Hotel on Bolshaya Yakimanka [street] where those same banned Taliban are sitting around in armchairs.
"They are virtually trying on the role of chief mediator in the Afghan settlement and one must admit they are doing so with perfect timing.
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"US President Donald Trump announced the reduction of the American contingent in Afghanistan, and it is clear that the final withdrawal of NATO forces from that country is right around the corner.
"It is simple to imagine what will happen next. The regime that has existed in Kabul since 2001, will begin to collapse like a house of cards. The current Afghan leaders can fantasize only about holding out on their own for more than three years as president [Muhammad] Najibullah was able to following the withdrawal of the Soviet army in February 1989. Even now, still before the Americans have left and while they are still prepared to support their Afghan allies in critical moments, the government forces are incapable of preventing the Taliban onslaught. News about the takedown of this checkpoint or another, or the Taliban capture of this locality or another, or the surrender of this garrison or another arrives every week if not more frequently. Indubitably, the withdrawal of the Americans will decisively demoralize the government's supporters. Therefore the current tactic and strategy of President Ashraf Gani is quite simply to convince Donald Trump not to leave. But he remains implacable. At the end of last week, in an interview on CBS television, he announced that he wants to make peace with the Taliban as quickly as possible, and he added that Washington spends 50 billion dollars annually on the Afghan campaign.
"Here is the perfect moment to remind [people] that as distinguished from Iraq or Libya, the Western intervention in Afghanistan did not become a destabilizing factor. And Afghanistan without Al-Qaeda, without training camps for [Islamic] fighters from the Northern Caucasus, without a government of Islamic fundamentalists provided its neighbors, and Russia as well, with far less of a headache then when it was under the power of the Taliban.
"But nothing lasts forever. And already now it is necessary to think about building relations with Post-American Afghanistan.
"For Moscow by and large, one point is of main importance –the new government, having established a Shari'a regime in the borders of Afghanistan, will not attempt to export it to the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union.
"Considering that the Taliban, as opposed to ISIS and Al-Qaeda (likewise banned in Russia) has no global ambitions, and does not attempt to spread its ideology over the entire planet, the chance exists that Russia will be to find a common language with them. And it is possible that the dialogue about the future arrangement in Afghanistan and future co-existence with them is taking place precisely now. It is necessary to exploit the fact that Taliban delegations are flying to Moscow with remarkable regularity."