The main threat to the security of Central Asia is not the Taliban, but ISIS, which has been intensified in Afghanistan, warns Russia, being engaged in countering such threats.
“It is important not to lose sight of Afghanistan, where ISIS is concentrating its forces. They are doing so using the way too drawn-out process of preparation for the actual peace talks,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference on 2 July.
The top Russian diplomat pointed out that “the ISIS group is spreading across territories, primarily in northern Afghanistan right on the borders of our allies”.
According to him, Russia is holding consultations through bilateral channels and within the CSTO in order to reliably protect neighbors in Central Asia from this direct and very serious threat.
ISIS is taking advantage of the hasty withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and the protracted preparations for peaceful inter-Afghan negotiations. Lavrov accused some officials in the ruling circles of Afghanistan who are trying in every possible way to drag this process.
Moreover, Moscow is trying to push Kabul towards ending the delay in the negotiation process and reaching consensus on the formation of a transitional government. Corresponding efforts are also being made through the expanded “troika”, which includes Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan.
On the eve of Lavrov’s statements, the possible risks for Central Asia from the Taliban were raised during the Foreign Ministry’s press briefing.
The official speaker of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, noted, referring to the statements of the Taliban, that they do not intend to aggravate relations with neighboring countries.
The growing military tension in the provinces of Afghanistan bordering the Central Asian states is fraught with the development of a humanitarian crisis and an increase in refugee flows in the region, she added.
In general, Moscow does not dramatize “the traditionally seasonal escalation of the armed conflict between the government forces and the Taliban”. There is a hope that after the end of the combat season the security situation in the country will improve and the opposing sides will be ready to start peaceful dialogue.
Judging by the moderate tone of Moscow, Russia neither would get involved in any military adventure in Afghanistan, nor allow the extremist and terrorist spill over at its southern borders – Central Asia.
In fact, the Taliban cannot pose a serious concern for the security of Central Asia. The military movement is aimed to establish/restore political power in Afghanistan.
At the end of June, the official website of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan stated the following: “We assure all neighboring countries of Afghanistan that no problems shall arise with the arrival of Mujahideen to border regions, good relations shall be maintained as before and no obstructions shall be created for border movement. Moreover, the soil of neighboring countries shall also be secure from our side, Allah willing.”
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Last week, the foreign ministers of two countries neighboring Afghanistan – Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -visited the United States. According to the readouts of the US State Department and the US Department of Defense, written in the same diplomatic text, the parties “agreed on the importance of further enhancing bilateral military-to-military cooperation and shared their desire to continue close collaboration on issues such as counterterrorism, border security, and defense institution capacity building.”
On Friday, the day of Kamilov and Mukhriddin’s meetings with US Defense Minister Austin, Bloomberg wrote (in the traditional manner for the US and Western media) with reference to anonymous “sources familiar with the request” that the United States propose an accord with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the use of their territories for conducting intelligence operations in Afghanistan.
The same day, during a briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby refrained from commenting these media leak, noting that “he lets those two nations speak for themselves”. At the same time, he said that “the Department of Defense in concert with the State Department colleagues were talking to neighboring nations, and trying to explore over the horizon opportunities that might exist there”.
There is a clear desire of Washington to reformat its regional presence, shifting the bridgehead from Afghanistan to the Central Asia, and thereby kill two birds with one stone – to enter the zone of Russia’s political and military influence and to appear directly at the borders of China.
However, such a plan, apparently, is not as rapid in realization as the United States would like. Dushanbe can count on the CSTO and the 201st Russian base in an extreme scenario.
Uzbekistan, positioning itself as an important nation in the integration of Central Asia and South Asia and is making great efforts to get closer to its neighbors, will not risk the existing achievements. Moreover, Tashkent already has an unpleasant story of locating a US military base. Probably, Uzbekistan would prefer to arrange deals with the future government in Kabul. There are a number of reasons for this, including economic ones. Afghanistan is a huge export market for Uzbek electricity, wheat, and metallurgical products. Afghanistan ranks fifth in the rating of Uzbekistan’s major positive balance trade partners, given that the share of Uzbek export in trade turnover with Afghanistan is 99%. Plus, Uzbekistan is involved in trans-Afghan railway projects that will grant eventually the landlocked nation the access to the Indian Ocean (for example, through the planned Mazar-I-Sharif – Kabul-Peshawar railway, with possible access to the Pakistani port of Gwadar). It’s unlikely that Tashkent will derail all these potential advantages for hosting American soldiers, understanding that this is not about “security” purely, but rather destabilization and further prodding on “democratization and human rights”.
On Friday Biden made it clear that the final withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would not take place in the coming days, refuting reports by leading US media that the servicemen will return home by 4 July. “We’re on — we’re on track exactly as to where we expected to be. But we just — I wanted to make sure there was enough, quote, “running room” that we could get — wouldn’t be able to do it all until September”, he told reporters.
The Pentagon expects to withdraw troops by the end of August, after which bilateral relations with the Afghan security forces will enter a new stage of development.
According to the latest decisions of the US Secretary of Defense, the command authority of the mission in Afghanistan will be transferred to the head of the Central Command of the US Armed Forces, General Frank McKenzie. He will lead US efforts to develop options for logistical and financial support for the Afghan forces.
In addition, Austin approved the establishment of the US Forces Afghanistan Forward, which will be headed by Navy Rear Admiral Peter Vasely. His command will be based in Kabul and will be supported by Brigadier General Curtis Buzzard, who will head the Afghan Defense Security Management Office Afghanistan with headquarters in Doha.
The US military personnel in Kabul will face four tasks. First, the protection of the US diplomatic presence in the country. Secondly, support for security requirements at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Third, constant advice and assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as needed. And fourthly, supporting counterterrorism efforts.
Earlier it was reported that up to 1,000 US soldiers will remain in Afghanistan after the final withdrawal of foreign troops. /// nCa, 5 July 2021