Russia says Kabul seems safer under Taleban than it was under Ghani

A member of Taleban forces (left) sits on a an armoured vehicle outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug 16, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan praised the Taleban's conduct on Monday (Aug 16) 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.

Russia has said it was surprised, like many other nations, by the lighting speed with which the Taleban seized control of the country even as US forces were still trying to evacuate American citizens.

Speaking to Moscow's Ekho Moskvy radio station, Mr Zhirnov said he had been 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 Taliban is better than it was under (President) Ashraf Ghani," said Mr Zhirnov.

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

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

He said 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 once Mr Ghani had fled and had imposed a curfew, he said.

Mr Zhirnov said the Taleban had already taken control of the security perimeter of the Russian Embassy, which has over 100 staff and that he would hold detailed security talks with them on Tuesday.

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

He said schools in Kabul, including those for girls, had started functioning again.

Russia's embassy in Britain has said Washington's Afghan exit shows its geopolitical star is on the wane.

"The objective reality is that Washington's comfortable position of US hegemony is receding into the past against the backdrop of the strengthening political positions of Russia and China," the embassy said on Twitter on Sunday.

Zamir Kabulov, 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's not for nothing that we've been establishing contacts with the Taliban 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 would play a leading role in the future of Afghanistan in any case."

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