Russia Prepares to Fund Afghanistan, Remove Taliban from Terror List

Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, left, shake hands with member of political delegation from the Afghan Taliban's movement Mawlawi Shahabuddin Dilawar, right, before the opening of talks involving Afghan representatives in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool

Russia announced Monday it would soon launch a “humanitarian operation” in Afghanistan, funding efforts to benefit the “Afghan people.” The announcement notably omitted to specify if the humanitarian aid would go to the Taliban, the de facto government of the country.

Moscow formally considers the Taliban a terrorist organization, in theory preventing the regime of leader Vladimir Putin from conducting any business with it. Taliban leaders have maintained some level of communication with Russia for years, however, and Putin himself suggested Russia may soon remove the Taliban from the terror blacklist soon, allowing for Russia to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate state entity.

The Taliban jihadist organization seized the Afghan capital Kabul on August 15, prompting then-President Ashraf Ghani to flee and leaving the terrorists in charge of the federal-level government there. The Kabul takeover occurred after President Joe Biden announced he would extend the 20-year Afghan war through September, violating a deal Washington had made with the Taliban to leave by May 1, 2021, in exchange for the Taliban agreeing not to attack foreign troops.

The Taliban launched a successful nationwide attack shortly after Biden’s announcement; Biden ultimately withdrew all troops before September.

Head of the Taliban delegation, deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi speaks to the media during an international conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on October 20, 2021. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP)

Head of the Taliban delegation, deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi speaks to the media during an international conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on October 20, 2021. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP)

Since its rise to power, the Taliban – which ruled the country prior to the American invasion following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks – has struggled to put together a functional government and restore the Afghan economy to functionality, in part because its officials do not enjoy recognition as legitimate leaders and institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have frozen Afghan government assets. Taliban officials have asked the world to donate to their cause.

Russian officials have argued that the lack of funding is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis civilians are experiencing in that country. In remarks on Monday, Zamir Kabulov, a senior Russian diplomat, said his country was preparing to fill the void.

“Under the president’s order, a new humanitarian operation is being prepared to provide emergency assistance to the Afghan people. The Defense and Emergencies Ministries are preparing transport aviation flights and this work is in full swing,” Kabulov claimed. “There are a lot of logistical issues they are handling with the support of the Foreign Ministry. I am not ready to announce the exact date and it is better to turn to the Defense or Emergencies Ministry but I believe that this will happen in coming days.”

Coverage of Kabulov’s remarks in the Russian news agency Tass did not specify what “logistics” required more attention or how the money would reach the Afghan people. As the legitimate government of Afghanistan collapsed in August, the Taliban is the only pseudo-state entity with national reach left. Tass did not report that Kabulov offered any assurances the money would not reach Taliban hands.

Elsewhere in his remarks to the press, Kabulov pressured the Biden administration to also fund “Afghanistan” and “the Afghan people,” without clarifying how that would be possible without funding the Taliban.

“We expect that our US colleagues are indeed determined to make good on the statements that were voiced at the highest level, which concern their commitment to continue providing assistance to the Afghan people,” Kabulov said, according to Tass. “It’s not only about humanitarian assistance that is urgently needed at the moment, but first, reconstruction efforts need to be launched that will transform into development.”

“This is why we expect that our US colleagues will fulfill these promises and will work closely … with regional powers, as well as on a more wide, global scale,” he concluded.

Kabulov was referring to repeated statements by Biden administration officials asserting that the United States would fund Afghanistan. Prior to the collapse of the Afghan government, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was planning to invest $300 million in “civilian assistance” in the country. The State Department has not updated regarding what will happen to those funds now that the Afghan government no longer exists.

More recently, this month, Taliban officials claimed that Washington had agreed in discussions with the terrorists that it would provide unspecified “humanitarian aid.” The Biden White House has not addressed the remark in any detail, but State Department spokesman Ned Price called talks with the Taliban “candid and professional.” Unlike Russia, America has not designated the Afghan Taliban a foreign terrorist organization, allowing for such meetings. The Pakistani Taliban, however, is designated a terror group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a virtual meeting with leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation to discuss the situation in Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Evgeniy Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a virtual meeting with leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation to discuss the situation in Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Evgeniy Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The White House issued a statement after the Taliban meeting stating that America “remains committed to working closely with the international community and using diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic means to address the situation in Afghanistan and support the Afghan people.”

The Russian government appeared to make a significant step forward in recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government this week in a meeting it hosted with eight other regional countries. The countries – among them China, India, and Iran – agreed in a joint statement that the world “needed to take into account the new reality, that is the Taliban coming to power in the country, irrespective of the official recognition of the new Afghan government by the international community.” It stopped short of offering full recognition.

To recognize the Taliban as a government, Moscow would have to remove it from its list of terrorist organizations. Putin suggested that may soon occur in remarks last week. Putin stated that such a move would require the United Nations to recognize the Taliban first.

“All of us expect that these people, the Taliban, who are undoubtedly in control of the situation in Afghanistan will ensure that the situation develop in a positive fashion,” Putin said.

Taliban representatives responded to his statement with enthusiasm.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban] welcomes the remarks of the Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on removing the names of the leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the blacklist,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday. “The end of the war is a global change in our relations and interactions with Afghanistan. We want a positive relationship with the whole world based on the principle of reciprocity.”

Evidence suggests the Taliban has not ceased its cooperation with international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda. The Taliban itself claimed, falsely, that it had not agreed to cut ties to al-Qaeda in talks with the administration of President Donald Trump in July.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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