Russian envoy says situation in Kabul 'better than it was' under former govt

Taleban fighters patrolling yesterday in Jalalabad, capital of the eastern Nangarhar province. The comments by Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov this week reflect an undisguised effort by Moscow to deepen its ties with the Taleban whi
Taleban fighters patrolling yesterday in Jalalabad, capital of the eastern Nangarhar province. The comments by Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov this week reflect an undisguised effort by Moscow to deepen its ties with the Taleban while stopping short, for now, of recognising the hardline group as the legitimate Afghan authority. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW • Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan has praised the Taleban's conduct and said the group, still officially designated a terrorist organisation in Russia, had made Kabul safer in the first 24 hours than it had been under the previous authorities.

The comments by Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov reflect an undisguised effort by Russia to deepen its well-established ties with the Taleban while stopping short, for now, of recognising the hardline Islamist group as the legitimate rulers of a country Moscow itself tried and failed to control before the Soviet Union withdrew its last forces in 1989.

Russia wants to ensure that the instability in Afghanistan does not spill over into Central Asia - part of the former Soviet Union it regards as its own backyard - and that it does not become a launchpad for other extreme Islamist groups.

Speaking to Moscow's Ekho Moskvy radio station on Monday, Mr Zhirnov said he was impressed by the Taleban's conduct so far, describing their approach as "good, positive and business-like".

"The situation is peaceful and good, and everything has calmed down in the city. The situation in Kabul now under the Taleban is better than it was under (President) Ashraf Ghani."

Mr Ghani, whose location is unknown, fled on Sunday, saying he wanted to prevent bloodshed.

"The regime fell like a house of cards," Mr Zhirnov said. "There was a feeling of disorder, a power vacuum, and looters came out on the streets."

He said that initially, unarmed Taleban units had entered the capital and asked government and US forces to surrender their weapons. The main armed Taleban units entered later.

He also said the Taleban had already taken control of the security perimeter of the Russian Embassy, which has more than 100 staff.

The Taleban fighters had promised, in line with earlier agreements, to protect Russian diplomats, he said, adding that Western fears about their behaviour had so far not been borne out.

Russia's RIA news agency reported that talks were under way between Mr Zhirnov and a Taleban representative.

Russia, however, is in no hurry to recognise the Taleban as the legitimate authority in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters yesterday as he called for an inclusive government to be set up involving all Afghan ethnic groups.

"We see encouraging signs from the Taleban (fighters), who say they would like to have a government that includes other political forces," Mr Lavrov said, urging all ethnic groups in the country to convene for talks on its future. "But it would be premature to say that we are going to start making some political steps unilaterally."

Russia's embassy in Britain said the United States' Afghan exit shows its geopolitical star is on the wane. "The objective reality is that Washington's comfortable position of US hegemony is receding... against the backdrop of the strengthening political positions of Russia and China," it tweeted.

Mr Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative on Afghanistan, said on Monday that Moscow's long campaign to build ties with the Taleban appeared now to be paying off.

"It is not for nothing that we have been establishing contact with the Taleban movement for the last seven years," Mr Kabulov told Ekho Moskvy.

"We saw that this force would, in the end, if not completely come to power, play a leading role in the future of Afghanistan in any case."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2021, with the headline 'Russian envoy says situation in Kabul 'better than it was' under former govt'. Subscribe