Herat dialogue as a factor of Russia's presence in Afghanistan

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Herat dialogue as a factor of Russia's presence in Afghanistan 25.10.2016 12:23

The Afghan problem was again at the center of international attention. So, in the middle of October 2016 the Afghan government forces re-established control over the city of Kunduz, the center of the same province in the north. The city was released from the Taliban movement militants after nine days of fierce fighting. And at the same time, the Taliban operate in several areas, coordinating their actions well. First, the administrative centers of Kunduz, Tarinkot and Lashkargah were attacked so the Afghan security forces were forced to deploy reinforcement there. Taking advantage of this situation, on October, 11, the Taliban took control of most of Farah - the administrative center of the same province, and a number of settlements in it.

It should be noted that this Taliban offensive occurred in an unusual for such hostilities time (previously some seasonality was observed in their activity). This may indicate the following. Firstly, the armed forces of Taliban movement have rear bases inside Afghanistan, so they cannot leave so they cannot restore, as before, power in Pakistan. Secondly, these villages were taken almost without a fight, and the siege as a result of "agreements" with local garrisons. So, October 11, 2016 about 100 police officers surrendered to the Taliban in Tarinkot, the Taliban in Lashkargah actually without a fight reached the city center, and only there were met by the security forces. This forces Kabul to use the Afghan elite Special Forces in actual combat operations, who did not manage to restore its military potential. As a consequence, the movement Taliban is now able to capture two or three Afghan provinces, but cannot keep them. One reason for this is the Taliban's inability to organize daily life in the occupied cities, so their actions are more than indicative character.

But this does not rule out attempts of a peaceful settlement. In particular, at the end of September 2016 peace agreement was signed between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Islamic Party of Afghanistan (IPA), which is headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar comes from the Pashtun tribe Ghilzais (the last of the major warlords, his troops moved partly in the Afghan army and the police, while others joined the Taliban movement).

This agreement allows you to return to the political scene IPA leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, after a decade of voluntary political exile. The latter helped to save the lives of himself and his family.

In accordance with the signed agreement Gulbuddin Hekmatyar received immunity for "all political and military acts." The Afghan Government undertakes a commitment to remove his name from the terrorist lists of various kinds (US, UN). This will allow Gulbuddin Hikmetyar recreate the party (even now the party as a whole has 35 representatives in the influential national parliament) which, according to experts in Kabul, will become the main political force in the country, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a real candidate for president. However, strengthening the position of the Pashtuns in Afghanistan may lead to enhancement of their confrontation with the Tajiks and other ethnic minorities (mainly Uzbeks and Hazaras).

Under these conditions, on 14 – 15 October in Herat Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies held an international conference "Violence and political order" in the framework of the V Herat security dialogue. It was attended by about 120 participants from Afghanistan, the United Nations mission, the United States, China, India, Pakistan, the UK, Egypt, Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey and France. The high status of this conference demonstrates the fact that it was opened by the governor of Herat province Mohammad Asef Rahimi and Rangin Dadfar Spanta, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, is now chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies.

On the Afghan side the conference was attended by: Director of the Department of the Security Council for Strategic Research of the country Arian Sharifi, Deputy Foreign Minister Nasir Ahmad Andisha, Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Mojgan Mostafavi, deputy education minister Sardar Mohammad Rahimi, the mayor of Herat Farhad Neiayesh, director of the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan Rafiullah Niazi, the members of the national parliament, heads of se heads of security forces and other officials. On the level of ambassadors in Afghanistan were represented by: China, India, Turkey and France. Representation at the level of deputy foreign minister of Iran has provided.

Suffice numerous delegations were submitted by India and Pakistan, it made possible to immediately after the conference hold separate Afghan-Pakistani and Afghan-Indian consultations. At the same time as the informal leader of the Pakistani delegation was Asad Durrani, former head of the Interagency Intelligence of Pakistan. Most likely, the consultations from the Pakistani side were led by the Consul General of Pakistan in Herat Bakht Baidar Khan.

During the conference, the Pakistani side was subjected to constant attacks, as a country - a sponsor of terrorism. This was carried out both by local experts, as well as some foreign representatives. Especially tough anti-Pakistani position was presented by Bruno Tertrais, senior researcher at the Institute for Strategic Research (France).

The Indian side will be headed by the Ambassador of India in Pakistan Manpreet Vohra. The composition of the Indian delegation also included Consul General in Herat Jaideep and Major General (retired) B.K. Sharma, Deputy Director of the Institute of the United Service. Total India was presented by 8 people.

The Russian Embassy in Afghanistan has shown certain passivity, and declined to participate in this conference. Of course, this is due to security concerns, but this should not preclude the active work in the host country. Especially considering that Russia is not actually presented in any political, or even in the information field in Afghanistan. Thus, the work of the Russian news agency Sputnik in the concerned country is professional enough, without taking into account local circumstances and the involvement of local experts and politicians.

The Russian delegation had only two members. But even that made possible to raise the Russian flag at the opening of the conference, as the fact of Russia's presence in Afghanistan. It is important for the national interests of Russia.

In his speech, the governor of Herat province Mohammad Asef Rahimi drew attention to the transit potential of these territories, which allows developing cooperation at least with Iran and Turkmenistan. Serious opportunities are available for power generation. There are quite a lot of various kinds of educational institutions in the province. But business is not so active, including issues due to security problems.

The most fundamental was the speech of Mr Spanta, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. Not now occupying public office, he could make a criticism, although quite moderate, of the US policy in Afghanistan. In particular, he described the US as a country with an unpredictable military force, which is forced to pay more attention to the Asia-Pacific region to contain China. According to him, the US can no longer regulate the global processes, and they are losing economic and military dominance. Beijing, for its part, felt its vulnerability, is forced to build the capacity of the Navy and to create military bases. As a consequence, there is a Chinese-American confrontation in Afghanistan on the background of the crisis in Ukraine, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Libya. In this regard, Afghanistan became the epicenter of the fight against terrorism. This requires the creation of a new world order system.

On the sidelines of the conference, officials from Kabul tried to distance itself from US criticism for failed policy in Afghanistan. At the same time they tried to soften the Afghan-Pakistani conflict.

For the first time the V Herat Security Dialogue in the field of security was attended by the Taliban. So, in a session devoted to stability, the rule of law and the future of democracy Mullah Salam Zaeef, former ambassador of Taliban movement in Pakistan made a speech. In 2002, he was extradited to Americans in Islamabad, and spent four years in prison on the US naval base in Guantanamo (Cuba). Now he resides in Kabul belongs to the mild part of the Taliban movement. It is worth mentioning that Mullah Salam Zaeef has positive attitude to the Russians and hates the Americans.

During the speeches, the representatives of the US side pointed out the US role in strengthening the national armed forces and law enforcement agencies. Of course, they have significant losses, but in the opinion of Americans, this is inevitable when learning during the war against international terrorism. At the same time, Washington will continue its policy to train Afghan security forces.

During the conference the representatives of Afghan society showed high activity. In particular, they have repeatedly raised the problem of domestic violence, gender equality and human rights. According to them the political violence in Afghanistan is no less vital problem, including on ethnic grounds. And the country needs a lot more justice.

According to the French representatives, the problem of violence in Afghanistan can be solved only with the help of democracy (rather controversial thesis). At the same time, France is the second target of the radical organization Islamic State after the United States. That is why so many terroristic acts take place in France. At the same time the French have noted that it is impossible to agree with the radicals. And if before their radicals move to Iraq or Syria now they are fighting at home.

In China believes that security in Afghanistan is closely linked to the security of the country, primarily in Xinjiang-Uygur region. However, Beijing cannot provide security in this country alone; it can only be done together.

The Russian representative took part in the session on the new architecture of regional security system. This session was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Nasir Ahmad Andisha. With him as the speakers were the former head of I-S-I Asad Durrani, Major General (retired) B.K. Sharma, as well as the representative of the Center for Strategic Studies (Iran) and the American University (Afghanistan).

In his speech, the Russian representative proposed the creation of a new system of security in Afghanistan on the non-bloc basis in the format of Russian-Chinese cooperation with the involvement of other foreign players (Iran, India, USA, Pakistan and Turkey). It is obvious that Russia lacks the resources to solve the Afghan problem by itself. But China's activities in this country are often associated with Pakistan. It should be borne in mind that the level of Russian-Indian cooperation is much higher than the same level of cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad. Therefore, such a format of the resolution of the Afghan problem is fairly balanced.

Currently, the United States holds in its orbit of influence the Afghan government on the basis of, firstly, the annual allocation of $5 billion to Kabul as a grant aid. In the future, such assistance will gradually replace the financial aid from the EU and other Western countries (the EU plans to allocate annually to the Government of Afghanistan to around €1.2 billion up to 2020). Secondly, this is air support actions of the Afghan army. That is why, for example, Washington strongly inhibits repair of the country combat and military transport helicopters of Soviet production.

China could easily replace the Western financial aid to Afghanistan, but after a certain stabilization of the situation in that country. For example, in 2008 an agreement was signed on the development of copper deposits Aynak Chinese state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China. It involves an investment of $3 billion. Another deal was concluded in 2011 with the Chinese company China National Petroleum Corp for $700 million on oil exploration in the field of Amudarya. Chinese companies have paid to the Afghan government for ensuring the safety of the two major fields. However, Kabul has not fulfilled its obligations, and the Taliban have demanded funding for security on their part. As a result, the Chinese have suspended the implementation of these projects.

Obviously, the new security system in Afghanistan can be created on the basis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This is facilitated by the fact that in 2017, India and Pakistan are likely to become full SCO members and Afghanistan, Iran are observer states in this organization. As the SCO dialogue partner stands Turkey.

As already mentioned, currently the presence of the Russian Federation in Afghanistan is limited; it does not meet Russia's national interests. In this connection it can be recommended:

1. to essentially intensify the work in Afghanistan of the Russian Embassy. This may include the participation of its representatives in all the major events (especially international) in the host country, as well as the organization of events at the territory of the Embassy with the assistance of well-known Afghan politicians, experts, journalists and representatives of non-governmental organizations. The latter, in particular, is widely practiced by the Americans.

2. to start consultations with the entourage of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, including his special envoy - Mohammad Amin Karimi and son - Habib ur-Rahman.

3. to consider opening of Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Herat. Currently, such representations have India, Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and the United States (it is nominal, in reality, it does not provide consular services). Turkish Consulate General is prepared to open in Herat.

Now the province is home to 4 million people (after Kabul it is one of the numerous provinces with the politically active population). Many Tajiks lives in this province. Moreover, there is relatively safe, but a serious presence of Iran allows establishing close bilateral cooperation (especially it is important in the early days for the Russian Consulate General). In addition, in the province of Herat the American airbase Shindand is situated, the second largest base after Bagram.

In general, the attitude in Herat province to Russia is neutral, that with the active work of the Russian Consulate General and the appropriate information support it can be changed to a positive one.

4. It is important to expand the Russian presence in the media, taking into account local peculiarities. For example, in rural areas, as a rule, there is no Internet and TV broadcast, so there is a need to make a major bet on the radio. In the Afghan cities special attention should be given to television and newspapers.

5. To provide training quota for Afghan students in Russian universities.

6. With the help of the Gorchakov Foundation for Support of Public Diplomacy press tours should be resumed in Russia of Afghan journalists and experts (primarily in Moscow and Kazan).

7. To take an active part regularly in the Herat security dialogue and dialogue "Afghanistan - Central Asia" which are held annually by the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies.

Therefore, Russia's presence in Afghanistan is clearly insufficient. In such circumstances, our country is extremely difficult to contain such non-traditional Afghan challenges and threats, such as terrorism, radical Islam and drug trafficking in relation to the strategically important for us, the Central Asian states. It is therefore advisable as a first step to start the penetration in the country through enhanced economic cooperation, humanitarian aid and development in the field of culture. At the same time an opportunity to strengthen relationships with the local elite, given the fact that the vast majority of its young members received a Western education. Equally important is military-technical (limited military) cooperation, for example by assisting in the restoration of the country's helicopter fleet. Only on this basis in the future it will be possible settlement of the Afghan crisis on the basis of Russian-Chinese cooperation involving other foreign players, also on non-bloc basis.


Vladimir V. Evseev - Deputy Director of the Institute of CIS countries.