Speaking with the Central Asian agency Asia-Plus during a visit to Tajikistan, the Russian president’s special envoy in Kabul, Zamir Kabulov, warned of “massive bloody military clashes” in Afghanistan and positioned Moscow as a key player in preventing this gloomy scenario.
Announcing Russia-led peace talks planned on April 14 in Moscow, Kabulov said the Kremlin considers the Taliban a legitimate party to conflict resolution because it “no longer nurtures the ideas of trans-border jihad” and has transformed into an armed opposition aiming to overthrow Afghanistan’s Western-backed government.
Kabulov went on to “explain” why the Taliban is fighting against the Afghan government and NATO/U.S.-led coalition forces there. “Sixteen years of NATO presence in Afghanistan only led to a deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the Taliban “want to put that to an end” and to create “a genuine state.” According to Russian officials, the Taliban is instrumental in preventing the spread of the Islamic State group in Central Asia.
In April 2015, local media in Afghanistan published reports claiming that the Taliban and IS had declared a jihad against each other.
However, troops on the ground say there is no real fighting between the two groups.
“There has not been any concerted effort by the Taliban to fight ISISK,” a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Bill Salvin, told VOA’s Afghan service.
ISISK is short for Islamic State Khurasan, the group’s Central Asian branch.
“Russia has said that the reason they are talking with the Taliban is that the Taliban is fighting ISISK; that is not true. The Taliban is not fighting IS; it is the Afghan security forces that are taking the fight to ISISK, and we are working with our Afghan partners in order to make sure that we continue to keep the pressure on these terrorists groups,” Salvin said.
According to the U.S. military, there were roughly 3,000 ISISK members in some 12 districts in southern Nangarhar at the beginning of 2016. During that year, those numbers dropped to around 600 ISISK members in two or three districts in southern Nangarhar.
“Therefore, you can see the success that the Afghan security forces along with U.S. forces, contributing combat enabling support; you can see how we have had success taking the fight to ISISK,” Salvin said.
In 2006, Russia’s Supreme Court designated the Taliban as a terrorist movement along with 16 other groups and there has been no public announcement that the group has been removed from Russia’s terrorist list. That means the Russian government is cooperating with a group they themselves designated as a terrorist movement.
Brian Williams, a professor at UMASS Dartmouth and - author of the book “Counter Jihad. The American Military Experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria,” told Polygraph.info that Kabulov’s comments are “yet another example of Moscow engaging in Soviet-style dezinformatsiya (disinformation).”
“The reality is that the Taliban shura in Quetta and semi-independent Taliban commanders like the Haqqanis still proclaim they are in a holy war with the internationally recognized democratically elected government of Afghanistan,” said Williams. “This terroristic jihad has the goal of overthrowing democracy in Afghanistan, enforcing harsh shariah Islamic law, and returning Afghanistan to the medieval time warp it was before the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 by the indigenous Afghan Northern Alliance and just 300 US special operators.”
In fact, just last December, the Taliban – or, as it currently calls itself, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – released a video in which the group’s leaders rejected peace talks and vowed to wage jihad to the end.
Kabulov’s claims that there has been no progress in UN-backed reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, said Williams, are “patently absurd and an attempt to create an alternative reality.”
Williams, who spent several years in Afghanistan, provided Polygraph.info with an eyewitness account of the changes in the country since the overthrow of the Taliban's harsh theocracy.
“The truth is that millions of refugees have returned to Afghanistan; new roads have been built stretching from Uzbekistan to Pakistan; millions of girls who were banned from school are now getting an education; skyscrapers, beauty shops, DVD stores, malls… have sprung up in Kabul," said Williams. "Fields across the county have been de-mined of landmines; thousands of wells have been dug. Women are in parliament and even the police force for the first time."
Williams added: "There have been the first democratic elections in the country's history. Science, history, math, literature are taught in thousands of new schools. There are no more public executions of ‘sinners’ in Kabul's soccer stadium by the Taliban's moral police. The economy has grown in leaps and bounds. The non-ruling ethnic groups who make up the majority of the country now have a role in the government that was denied them by the ethnic Pashtun Taliban.”
"To deny all these easily observed facts as the Kremlin is attempting to do is to construct an alternate-reality Potemkin village,” he said.
While the Russians are not the first to engage with the Taliban in an effort to bring peace in Afghanistan, and there have been such attempts by the United States and other governments, these efforts have never resulted in the Taliban denouncing jihad or the use of terrorism.
The Taliban continues to use terror as a main strategy in Afghanistan. Explosions, including those conducted by suicide bombers, occur frequently, claiming hundreds of civilian lives, like the bombings that took place in Kabul March 1, killing 23 civilians. The Taliban officially took responsibility for that attack.
Meanwhile, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, suggested Thursday that Moscow may even be supplying the Taliban.
"I've seen the influence of Russia of late - increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban," he told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.