ANALYSIS - Taliban win backing for aid, engagement at Moscow meeting

Committing to work with Taliban rulers, representatives of 10 countries acknowledge new ground realities in Afghanistan

Zaki Shaikh   | 22.10.2021
ANALYSIS - Taliban win backing for aid, engagement at Moscow meeting Taliban delegation attend 3rd Moscow Format meeting on Afghan settlement in Moscow, Russia on October 20, 2021. ( Sefa Karacan - Anadolu Agency )

The writer is a UK-based analyst and has worked with universities in three Central Asian countries.


Representatives of 10 countries and the Taliban, who gathered in the Russian capital Moscow on Oct. 20 to discuss developments and the future of Afghanistan, acknowledged the changed ground realities in the war-torn country.

At the end of the meeting, the joint statement endorsed by China, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan committed to working with the Taliban to help the country stave off economic collapse and a humanitarian catastrophe. The countries joined the Taliban in calling for the UN to convene a conference as soon as possible to help rebuild the country.

Acknowledging changing ground reality, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said a new administration is in power following a radical change on the ground. He hoped that the Taliban would stabilize the political and security situation and establish an inclusive government that would reflect the interests of all ethnic and political forces inhabiting the country.

As part of their first multilateral outreach since they took over Kabul on Aug. 15, Taliban leaders arrived in the Russian capital to inform the world how they are going to build relations with them and how they will address regional concerns. The formation of a government in Afghanistan has not yet been completed.

The new Afghan leaders, on their part, assured their readiness to change their image and looked prepared for entering agreements to guarantee that they would not allow their territory to be used by militants to attack neighboring countries.

"Be that as it may, but after the flight of the US, these figures in turbans are the only force in Afghanistan who controls the power in their country, and there are no other negotiators today," said Lavrov.

Moscow meeting unprecedented development

Arkady Dubnov, a Russian expert on Central and South Asia, said a notable feature of these consultations was that the Taliban visited Moscow for the first time as representatives of a full-fledged government. He described it as an unprecedented development and a step towards recognizing the Taliban-led government.

"Russia is important to the Taliban as a lobbyist for their political ambitions. We are permanent members of the UN Security Council. And the new government of Afghanistan wants to get a seat at the UN.

Moscow can lobby for the removal of the Taliban from the list of terrorist organizations at the UN Security Council, which, in principle, should lead to diplomatic recognition of the new Kabul government," he said.

Diplomats in Moscow also took note of the efforts of Afghanistan's new authorities to stabilize the politico-military situation. It was also recognized that, at least for the foreseeable future, there was no alternative to the new balance of power established in Afghanistan. Even if some circles do not like the new setup, the people of Afghanistan cannot be left without support based on political likes or dislikes.

Expressing deep concern over the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the conference expressed the need to mobilize the international community to provide urgent humanitarian and financial assistance to the Afghan people and in the reconstruction of the country.

"Reports of the deteriorating living conditions of ordinary Afghans are very alarming," said Lavrov. He warned that the humanitarian situation might aggravate further due to the lack of a balanced diet for a large population in Afghanistan.

The country's neighbors and regional friends are approaching the UN with an appeal to hold a special conference on Afghanistan as it is going through difficult times and urgently needs humanitarian aid. Easing the people's hardships would serve as a step towards contributing stability in the region.

A significant challenge for the new Afghan government is to revive the economy and address the food shortage. Many farmers in a large swathe of the country were not able to sow seeds and attend to their fields due to conflict that intensified in the spring. Therefore, there is nothing for the farmers to harvest in the autumn. There is a need to get seeds, agriculture equipment and money to be distributed among farmers to allow them to grow crops next year to attend to the country's food requirements.

Punishing Taliban will affect Afghan population

Underlining that while many actors may not like the new rulers in Afghanistan, Russian envoy Zamir Kabulov said attempts to punish them would in effect mean punishing the entire Afghan population, which is at no fault.

To take practical measures for alleviating the economic pressure, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited Kabul soon after the meeting to announce a slew of measures to avoid a complete collapse of the Afghan economy.

After meeting with Taliban leaders, Qureshi announced easing some border restrictions and measures to facilitate trade, including on-arrival visas for Afghan business travelers. A Taliban delegation will soon visit Islamabad to finalize steps for the resumption of air and land travel. Pakistani minister also announced the abolition of duty on imports of fresh fruit and vegetables from Afghanistan. This step may address the plight of Afghan fruit and vegetable farmers, who have been hurt by the border closures.

The participants in the Moscow meeting urged the Taliban to pursue a prudent domestic and foreign policy. The desire to form an inclusive government was reflected in the final statement.

Russian expert Alexey Makarkin said almost everyone, and not only the West, is demanding inclusive government in Afghanistan.

"This is a general requirement made largely because even those countries that would like to build relations with the Taliban are unable/unwilling to do so," he said.

Taliban effective tool to combat radical elements

"As a result of their reluctance and reticence, the Taliban have found themselves in tough isolation, and now they use every opportunity to convey their point of view to outside players," said Moscow's Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Russia, however, continues to regard the "impulsive mullahs" as an effective tool for countering other radical elements using Afghanistan soil.
Kabulov admitted that the Taliban had been effectively protecting the Russian embassy in Kabul. He said negotiations with the Taliban are in the context of geopolitical priorities, where they are asked to deal with realities and, not values.

Many Russian commentators voiced their expectation that the Taliban will behave responsibly, will effectively suppress terrorists from rival organizations; and, will carry on demonstrating commitment to lead to stabilization gradually.

The general feeling is that the Taliban visited Moscow to seek support for their interests, as well as to convey their abilities to discuss or negotiate issues concerning the international community

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Anadolu Agency.

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