Russian Foreign Affairs Columnist Yusin: Russia Is Overdoing It In Selling The Taliban As Worthy Interlocutors

Formally, the Taliban is an organization that is banned in Russia, but Russia is meeting Taliban officials on the most senior levels. Furthermore, Russian officials have definitely tilted towards the Taliban by depicting them as sane while making snide comments about the Kabul government.[1] According to Kommersant columnist Maxim Yusin, who specializes in foreign policy, both sides of Moscow’s policy are wrong. On the one hand, it should lift the ban on the Taliban; on the other hand, it is wrong to oversell the Taliban. The Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan clearly show that the show of moderation put on by the Taliban diplomats in Moscow is a façade. The Taliban have not become moderates. The Kabul government remains the lesser evil, even if for reasons of realpolitik, Moscow must engage with the Taliban.

“The situation with the Taliban movement and the attitude of the Russian authorities towards looks a bit absurd. Formally, it [the Taliban] is recognized as extremist and banned, and the journalists who mention this group in their texts are obliged to remind their readers every time of this. Sometimes, this leads to comical episodes. For example, when the other day, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke very flatteringly about the Taliban representatives who flew to Moscow for consultations, calling them “sane people.” Sane people from the [radical] movement banned in Russia.

“Apparently, in order to avoid such incidents, it is time to remove the ban. Moscow does not regard the Taliban as enemies, at least those people who today determine the policy on the Afghan direction. To be convinced of this, it is enough to listen to an hour-long interview that Zamir Kabulov, the president’s special envoy for Afghanistan, gave to Echo of Moscow last week. Mr. Kabulov is an experienced diplomat, he spoke carefully, checked the wording, weighed every word carefully. But every so often, his attitude towards the participants in the Afghan conflict came through. So, about the government troops, he once said “so-called”. As for the Taliban, he repeated several times that this is a national movement that has no expansionist plans with relation to neighboring states. He said that they are fighting the Islamic State (also banned in Russia) and that the Taliban, in his opinion, should enter the future coalition government – this would be the best way out of the current situation.

“Moscow’s logic is understandable. It starts from harsh geopolitical realities.

“The Taliban isn’t going anywhere, they have already reached the borders of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and in the future, they will only strengthen their positions. One way or another, sooner or later it would be necessary to come to an agreement with them. And if so, it is better to do it now, staying ahead of the curve, in order to appear in their eyes as a kind of good investigating officer, a potential partner in contrast to the Western “occupiers” and “crusaders.”

“But here it is important to avoid overplaying your hand, going to extremes, and harboring illusions. When officials in Moscow act almost as lawyers for the Taliban, claiming that in the captured districts they are only restoring the traditional Afghan way of life, against the backdrop of horrendous, heartbreaking stories currently coming out of Afghanistan, these words do not seem entirely appropriate. On the Internet, it is easy to find videos of the Taliban’s savage massacres of captured Afghan army personnel. They are so monstrous that I will not even describe them in detail. And in the occupied areas, the new masters are restoring all the rules that existed before 2001, prior to the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Kabul.

“For example, residents of the Kalafgan district told foreign journalists that the Taliban, with their very first decrees, prohibited women from leaving the house unaccompanied by men, and girls from going to school. Men are now required to grow beards and wear only traditional clothing, under the strictest cigarette ban. And in the Yavan county on the border with Tajikistan, they introduced another innovation – you may not wear red and green clothes, as they recall the Afghan flag’s colors.

“Of course, those Taliban who fly to Moscow for consultations try to make moderate statements and may indeed seem sane at some point. But in the localities, in the captured counties, they are not the ones setting the rules at all. For the most part, the Taliban remained ruthless fanatics. And no matter how the current Afghan government is resented in Moscow, for various reasons, compared to those who may replace it, this government is certainly the lesser evil. And many more sane people can be found within it than in the leadership of the Taliban movement, which is still banned in Russia.”

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