Talk to the Taliban. Behind the scenes of the "Inter-Afghan meeting" in Moscow

20 years ago they were the personification of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, and their rule was a symbol of barbarism and religious extremism. Today, the Afghan Taliban is an equal participant in the negotiations on a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan and guests of the Moscow President Hotel. It was there that on 5-6 February a somewhat mysterious "inter-Afghan encounter & # 39; took place, from which the Russian authorities carefully renounced participation in the organization of which. And the most important result of this unusual meeting, according to the statements made by the participants, is the broad support of the dialogue between the United States and the Taliban with a view to the withdrawal of American troops. And the most important result is that this meeting took place at all, that is, they were able to sit down and talk.

Great guests

The Taliban was represented at the meeting by a delegation of 10 people led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzaiwho is considered one of the political leaders of the Taliban movement. It is not the first time in Moscow: last November the Taliban visited the Russian capital as part of negotiations in the "Moscow format". These are consultations in which official representatives from different sides of the Afghan conflict participate, as well as from the interested powers: India, Iran, China, Russia, the US and the states of Central Asia.

At the same time, there were no problems related to the fact that the Taliban movement was officially regarded as a terrorist organization, including in Russia, which did not appear in the Taliban – neither then nor now. Representative of the organizers of the meeting Omar Nessar told Radio Liberty Mumin Shakirovthat the Taliban have reached an independent agreement on a visit to all Russian structures.

I liked Abbas Stanikzai in Moscow, with the conversations – they were officially organized by the Afghan diaspora in Russia – he was satisfied. "We agree on two points: recording conditions [иностранных] the troops and the fact that the Afghan forces will not be used against them … Details of this will be discussed later in the context of two technical groups, "the Interfax agency quotes. Why, if the meeting was purely inter-Afghan, was it not organized in Kabul, but in Moscow? The head of the political representation of the Taliban movement in Qatar – de facto coordinates the diplomatic efforts of the Taliban – Abdusalam Hanafi Radio Liberty answered this question that the official authorities of Afghanistan are against, because they are allegedly against the United States.

Unusual guests "President Hotel": the Taliban and their former opponents in prayer in the middle of the lobby of a hotel in Moscow

"A kind of fantasy"

Current president of afghanistan Ashraf Ghani He was indeed very critical of the Russian meeting, in which representatives of the Afghan government were not present. According to him, what happens in Moscow is nothing more than "a kind of fantasy":

But there was a fairly wide range of opposition forces available – besides the Taliban, the former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, the influential ex-governor of Herat province, was found in the President Hotel. Ismail Khan or dignitaries of the former Northern Alliance, who with the help of the United States and their allies put an end to Taliban rule in Afghanistan at the end of 2001.

Participated in the meeting and Mohammad Hanif Atmar – the former Minister of the Interior of Afghanistan and the presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections in July. He is considered one of the main contenders for the victory and the man on whom Russia trusts. Unlike most participants in the meeting, Hanif Atmar did not fight against the Soviet troops during the Soviet Afghan war, but, on the contrary, served in the KhAD counter-espionage of the communist regime, which was closely linked to the KGB of the USSR. The head of the KhAD was at one time Mohammad Najibullah, who had come to power in the Soviet Union, Gorbachev, as president of the Republic of Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai He called the negotiations in Moscow & # 39; very well. With regard to the authorities in Kabul, he chose a conciliatory tone: "We understand that the government must be a party to these negotiations, we would like them to be here today."

Do not shoot, but talk

Mainly two topics were discussed: the possible withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from Afghanistan and future changes in the constitution of the country, to which the Taliban insist. In comparison with the 1990s they have, at least in words, softened their position. The Taliban demand the Islamization of the laws of the country (the current Afghan constitution is "coming from the West and constitutes an obstacle to peace"), but is prepared to make concessions, particularly with regard to the rights of women. "They will be able to go to schools and universities, hire themselves" and generally "have all the necessary rights in accordance with Islam and Afghan culture", assured Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the Taliban delegation, the participants in the meeting in Moscow. Member of the Afghan parliament Favzia Kufi, who also came to Moscow, said in an interview with the BBC: "This is a positive step: the Taliban, who spoke with the Afghan people, especially women, in the language of bullets, now use a microphone and want to listen to the women's voices. "

Other observers are surprised at the distorted story that has been going on for months at various diplomatic levels and at various places of negotiation of an Afghan settlement:

"Afghan Mujahideen defeated Russia, the Taliban expelled the Mujahideen, the United States overthrew the Taliban and they are all now negotiating!"

Indeed, shortly before the meeting in Moscow, the same Abbas Stanikzai met, according to Western media reports, in one of the countries of the Persian Gulf with the special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. The negotiations also discussed the conditions for a possible withdrawal of the Western coalition troops and guarantees that the Taliban, if they are again or (more likely) in the coalition to come to power in Afghanistan, will not allow the country to become the basis of international terrorist groups.

The history of the confusing issue

After the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan, created by the Taliban in 2001, fell under the battles of the Northern Alliance and its foreign allies under the leadership of the United States, this radical movement was for a while shaded, but soon it began to speed up again. to get. This is how, according to data from the first half of last year, the presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan looked at separate provinces:

Dark brown color – complete control, 4% of the territory; further, if the intensity of the hue decreases: at least two missions or terrorist attacks per week – 15%; at least three "reminders about yourself" per month – 20%; no more than one sort in three months – 31%; gray color – under government control – 30%.

The authorities in Kabul are considered responsible for supporting the Taliban, mainly in Pakistan. Attempts to negotiate between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been undertaken repeatedly, but have not been successful. The main source of funding for the Taliban is the drug trade, where they earn at least $ 400 million per year.

In 2011, the number of US troops in Afghanistan reached a maximum – about 100 thousand soldiers. After the death of the Al-Qaida leader and the long-standing guest of the Afghan Taliban, Osama bin Laden, the Barack Obama administration began to reduce the number of troops, depending on the training of the Afghan forces.

In 2014, the United States officially announced the end of their participation in military operations in Afghanistan. Taliban activism and the loss of Afghan government forces have increased dramatically. In 2015, the Taliban confiscated the city of Kunduz in the north of the country for some time – the first thing since 2001 when they managed to capture the center of one of the provinces.

Russian game

More than four years ago, the first reports of contacts of Russian representatives with the Taliban began. According to experts interviewed by the Washington Post, after the appearance of the first cells of the Islamic State (IG) group in Afghanistan, Moscow saw the Taliban as a minor evil: they claim to have only control over Afghanistan, while IG has international ambitions. . Russia fears the spread of IS influence in the Central Asian countries north of Afghanistan. Moreover, a symbolic return to the Afghan "game" 30 years after the unfair withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan for the Kremlin is a matter of prestige, Western experts say.

US helicopters UH-60 Black Hawk from Kandahar (Afghanistan)

US helicopters UH-60 Black Hawk from Kandahar (Afghanistan)

In 2014, a Russian diplomat, former Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov initiated informal multilateral consultation on the Afghan issue, which later grew the Moscow format. Russian activities towards Afghanistan intensified after Donald Trump came to power in the United States.

Although his government announced the deployment of another 4,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2017, there were reports in late 2018 about the upcoming withdrawal of 7,000 US troops from that country. This is now half of the American quota. Since 2001, more than 2,400 Americans and more than 25,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen have died in Afghanistan.

President Trump's position comes down to the fact that US troops can be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan if an agreement acceptable to Washington is reached during negotiations with Afghan political forces and groups, including the Taliban. This is what Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is doing now. At the same time, the United States is represented by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assure Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that his government has nothing to fear:

"The Foreign Minister also emphasized that our military partnership is unwavering and will last until a long and comprehensive peace is achieved."

Under these circumstances, Russia and other players are in a hurry to find allies in Afghanistan, given the possible change of power this summer when the presidential elections are held. Hanif Atmar – they call him the man that Moscow is counting on – is much more positive about negotiations with the Taliban than President Ghani. In any case, despite the Russian authorities renouncing the "inter-Afghan meeting" which took place 500 meters from the Kremlin, Russia plans to take an active part in the Afghan game – all participants in the meeting , with whom Radio Freedom has been able to talk hotel ".

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