Russia Confirms It Is Considering Delisting Taliban as Terrorists

Taliban mark the second anniversary of their takeover of the country in Kabul, Afghanistan
AP Photo/Siddiqullah Alizai

The top Kremlin spokesman told reporters on Tuesday that Russia is considering removing the Afghan Taliban from its official terrorist organization list, paving the way to recognize the jihadists as the official government of Afghanistan and establish diplomatic ties.

Strongman Vladimir Putin’s presidential mouthpiece Dmitry Peskov asserted that Taliban terrorists “are actually the ones who are in power in Afghanistan” and Moscow is taking “under consideration” delisting them as terrorists to better address that reality.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov on December 27, 2022, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Contributor/Getty Images)

“The fact is that this is our neighboring country. In one form or another, we maintain communication with them. We have to resolve pressing issues, which also requires dialogue,” Peskov said, according to the Russian news agency Tass.

Peskov described the Russian government as being “in contact with them [the Taliban] just like everyone else.”

Asked more directly about delisting the Taliban as a terrorist organization, Peskov said to the journalist asking, “You have said yourself that the option is under consideration. Let’s wait until this process ends; then we can talk about the position [of the Kremlin].”

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Peskov confirmed the move less than two weeks after the Islamic State jihadist terrorist organization took responsibility for one of the deadliest slaughters of civilians in modern Russian history: the siege of the Crocus City concert hall and mall on March 22, which killed more than 120 people. Gunmen opened fire on the concert hall shortly before the Russian rock band Piknik was set to take the stage, then reportedly targeted civilians hiding in bathrooms and hallways, shooting as many people dead as possible. One of the terrorists used some form of explosive device to set the venue on fire, triggering a large number of deaths from smoke-related asphyxiation and burns.

The Associated Press

A Russian soldier secures an area as a massive blaze can be seen over a concert venue on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov)

The government of the United States, which had warned Russia prior to the attack of an impending massacre plot, specifically blamed the Islamic State Khorasan province (ISIS-K), the Afghan wing of the international Islamist terrorist group, for orchestrating the Moscow slaughter. Putin personally stated on national television that “radical Islamists” were behind the attack, but he and other Russian officials have hinted to believing that the government of Ukraine, with American involvement, also played a role. They have not offered any evidence for this claim.

Taliban leaders expressed outrage at the terrorist attack and condolences to Moscow – as well as denying, contrary to extensive evidence, that ISIS does not have a presence in Afghanistan.

The Taliban – a Sunni jihadist terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations – has governed Afghanistan uncontested since 2021, when President Joe Biden extended the 20-year war in Afghanistan beyond the May 2021 deadline that predecessor Donald Trump had brokered in a deal with the then-Afghan government and the Taliban. The extension prompted the Taliban to no longer abide by a deal to limit its terrorist acts and go on a spree of conquest that ended with the fall of the internationally recognized government in Kabul.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks at his first news conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. For years, Mujahid had been a shadowy figure issuing statements on behalf of the militants. Mujahid vowed Tuesday that the Taliban would respect women's rights, forgive those who resisted them and ensure a secure Afghanistan as part of a publicity blitz aimed at convincing world powers and a fearful population that they have changed. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks at his first news conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

While no other institution claims to be the government of Afghanistan, no other states have formally recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government. Some rogue states, most prominently China, have maintained friendly ties with Taliban leaders, however, and formalized some aspects of their relationship. In December, for example, China became the first country to accept a formal Taliban ambassador to Beijing representing Afghanistan, former Foreign Ministry spokesman Bilal Karimi.

“Assuring the Chinese side that Afghanistan does not pose a threat to anyone from it’s territory, Mr. Karimi outlined that regional stability & security is in the interest of all,” the Taliban said in a statement, “praised China’s positive & non-interference policy, & called China a good neighbor of Afghanistan.”

Leaders of the Taliban movement and negotiators Abdul Latif Mansoor (R), Shahabuddin Delawar (C) and Suhail Shaheen (L) walk to attend a press conference in Moscow on July 9, 2021. - Russia on July 9, 2021, said the Taliban controls about two-thirds of the Afghan-Tajik border and urged all sides in Afghanistan to show restraint. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP) (Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Leaders of the Taliban movement and negotiators Abdul Latif Mansoor (R), Shahabuddin Delawar (C) and Suhail Shaheen (L) walk to attend a press conference in Moscow on July 9, 2021. (DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia has also maintained communication with the Taliban, welcoming its representatives for formal visits despite its designation as a terrorist entity — an obstacle that China does not have to overcome to cooperate with the jihadist group. Russia most recently welcomed Taliban envoys in September to discuss alleged “regional threats.”

The Taliban appeared to recognize its friendly ties to Russia in its response to the Crocus City massacre. The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” as the Taliban refers to itself, “condemns in the strongest terms the recent terrorist attack in Moscow, Russia, claimed by Daesh [ISIS] & considers it a blatant violation of all human standards,” spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said.

The top Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed shortly after the attack that ISIS “has been significantly weakened” in Afghanistan “compared to when American forces were here [in Afghanistan], and the forces of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban] have used all means to suppress Daesh.”

Contrary to Taliban claims, multiple reports have documented a surge in jihadist activity under the Taliban, not just by ISIS but by longtime Taliban allies al-Qaeda. An extensive report by Reuters in March claimed that ISIS-K has become one of the most influential branches of the terrorist organization by recruiting Central Asian Muslims in large numbers.

“A Taliban intelligence official estimated that 90% of ISIS-K’s cadre is now non-Pashtun. Tajiks and Uzbeks are the other large ethnic groups that populate the north of Afghanistan,” Reuters reported, later adding, “ISIS-K had exploited the Taliban’s failure to eliminate its safe havens in northern and eastern Afghanistan to expand regionally.”

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