On July 20, the Valdai Club held an online discussion titled “Afghanistan After the US Withdrawal: A Security Vacuum Forever?” The discussion was moderated by Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club.
Describing the current situation in the country, Hamid Karzai, former president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2004-2014), noted that the conflict in Afghanistan is not a conflict among the Afghan people, but the consequence of a global game with a regional dimension. He acknowledged that the Taliban (an organisation banned in Russia) are winning the hearts of Afghans and expanding territorial control, but this has not yet led to the conquest of the country or general stability. In his opinion, a military solution is now impossible for either side and only national reconciliation can achieve success.
Karzai also vehemently opposed the existing, according to him, American plans to decentralise governance in Afghanistan and to create several governments in the country. He warned against the fragmentation of Afghanistan. Outlining the successes that have been achieved over the past two decades, the former president pointed out that a certain system of values had been created: constitutional rule, civil rights, rights of women, freedom of the press and some basic democratic institutions, and added that society has become much more educated. Even some Taliban leaders have acknowledged the positive effect of these changes, Karzai said. Separately, he noted the great importance of the contribution that Russia made to this process.
Zamir Kabulov, Special Representative to the President of the Russian Federation for Afghanistan and Director of the Second Asia Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, stressed that Russia, like a number of other countries participating in the settlement process, seeks to maintain contact with both of the Afghan parties to the conflict. “We play on all fields, but we aren’t gambling, we’re playing chess,” he said. Speaking about the role of the United States, he pointed out that the US still has certain obligations to Afghanistan and the Afghan people, and that, according to an agreement between Washington and Kabul, the United States should continue to provide financial and economic assistance to Afghanistan. According to Kabulov, America’s allies who participated in its unsuccessful operation in Afghanistan also bear a similar responsibility.
Answering the moderator’s question about whether the Taliban have changed from what they were twenty years ago, the diplomat noted that the first generations of the leaders of the movement are tired of the war, understand that political solutions must be sought and are ready to compromise — if it is worthy. However, there are also younger generations who have never lived in a free, calm, unoccupied Afghanistan. This more passionate part of the movement is still radically disposed — and the Taliban leadership cannot but reckon with them.
Kabulov paid special attention to the issue of the threat to Central Asia. According to him, there is not a single incidence of the Taliban crossing the border or attempting to do so. The Taliban are taking control of Afghan territories and are not interested in neighbouring countries, he says. At the same time, Kabulov considers a number of small and medium-sized terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan to be dangerous, and notes that they could unite under the auspices of ISIS (an organisation banned in Russia). However, the Taliban are their sworn enemies, so the strengthening of the Taliban can even be a positive factor from the point of view of the security of Russia’s Central Asian partners and allies, the special envoy of the president stressed.