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The United States and European Union are said to be considering offering help to the National Resistance Front under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, as the Taliban has failed to fulfill the commitments made at Doha. The split in the Taliban is now public; the Doha negotiators have been sidelined and the Pakistan-backed Haqqani Network dominates the new government.
After BBC confirmed reports of physical fighting between Baradar and Khalil ul Rehman Haqqani on September 3, it is learnt that deputy foreign minister Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai has been living in Doha for several weeks, for his personal safety. Stanikzai, who was trained at the Indian Military Academy, is considered “close” to Russia and India. As head of Taliban’s political office in Doha, he was India’s first contact with the new regime in August 2021. Widely expected to be made foreign minister and continue good relations with India, he was sidelined by the dominant Haqqani network.
In this backdrop, Moscow hosted a meeting of Taliban representatives with senior officials from Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, on 20 October 2021. The United States did not attend, but said it could join future meetings. The Taliban delegation was headed by deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed satisfaction that the new Afghan authorities would ensure the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan. Russia’s principal objectives are to prevent an influx of refugees into Central Asia; inhibit Islamic radicalism from spreading to former Soviet Republics, and ensure that Afghanistan does not become a base for terrorist groups that might harass neighbouring countries. Despite assurances from the Taliban, the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State (Islamic State in Khorasan) has targetted Shia mosques and killed hundreds of people in Afghanistan already.
Lavrov said the Kremlin would not recognise the new regime until it fulfilled its promises regarding political and ethnic inclusivity, and curbing the spread of radicalism in the region. Afghanistan’s interim foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, assured that there would soon be an inclusive government and pledged that Afghanistan would not allow its territory be used to threaten the security of other nations.
Tajikistan is most vulnerable with a 900-mile border with Afghanistan; it is a favoured destination for Afghan refugees. As many as 15,000 have already arrived and 500 to 600 persons try to cross over daily. The fear of militants crossing in the guise of refugees has the regime and neighbourhood on tenterhooks.
The participants urged the international community to engage with the regime and offer economic and humanitarian relief while withholding recognition. They urged the Taliban to create a more inclusive government with friendly ties with neighbours, and expressed concern at the activities by banned terrorist organizations (Islamic State) in the country. They urged the international community to unfreeze over $9 billion in Afghan reserves held in overseas accounts (mainly US Federal Reserve).
After the meeting, all ten participants and Taliban demanded a UN donor conference for Afghanistan, to stave off a humanitarian crisis and help rebuild the country. In a pointed reference to the United States, they said that the UN donor conference should take place “with the understanding, of course, that the main burden … should be borne by the forces whose military contingents have been present in this country over the past 20 years”.
Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the London-based think tank, Royal United Services Institute, told the Wall Street Journal (October 20) that Moscow is giving the Taliban “legitimacy without recognizing them.” He claimed that Russia wants to emerge as a conduit between the Taliban and rival Afghan factions, and between Taliban and other nations.
However, many nations see the wisdom of engagement with the new authorities. Simon Gass, British representative for Afghan transition, met with Taliban leaders, including acting Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi of Taliban’s political office in Qatar, on October 5. Further, on October 9-10, a US delegation also met with Taliban representatives in Doha.
India availed of the opportunity offered by the Moscow Format meet to dialogue with Taliban representatives on the sidelines of the conference. The Indian delegation, led by J.P. Singh, joint secretary, Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran division, Ministry of External Affairs, offered humanitarian aid, especially food (wheat). Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Tolonews that both sides agreed to consider each other’s concerns and improve diplomatic and economic relations.
Previously, in September, Deepak Mittal, Indian envoy to Qatar, met with the Taliban’s deputy foreign minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai in Doha.