Russia and Iran appear to be replicating their strategic alliance in Syria for backing Bashar Assad with another shared scheme – this one for promoting none other than the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban in Afghanistan.
A warning of what was going on came from Army Gen. John Nicholson, the head of US forces in Afghanistan in a briefing to the Pentagon on Dec. 2.
The US general shed light on the flattering comments that cast the Taliban in a favorable light that were made by Vladimir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to that country, on Nov. 15 – just three days after Donald Trump won the US presidential election.
Those comments had not resonated in Washington until the Nicholson briefing.
What Kabulov said to the Anadolu Agency in Moscow was this:
“The Taliban did not accept the idea of global jihad. Their number one goal is to save the country from occupation and establish an independent Afghan government,” he explained. “The Taliban are fighting ISIS because they do not accept its ideology of jihad and see it as a rival in their own land.”
He stressed that under UN Security Council resolutions, Taliban is entitled to exist as a political force, and went on to say: “I agree with the view that America has no Afghanistan strategy beyond maintaining a military existence in the country.”
Those comments reflected Putin’s game in Afghanistan, as Gen. Nicholson revealed, point by point:
- Russia and Iran support Taliban in a deliberate attempt to undermine the Afghan government and NATO operations in Afghanistan.
- Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban. The Putin narrative goes something like this: The Taliban are the ones fighting the Islamic State – not the Afghan government.
- Russia’s public legitimacy of the Taliban is not based on fact – which is that the Afghan government and the US are the ones achieving the greatest effect against the Islamic State – but rather aim to undermine the present Afghan government.
- Neither does it represent popular opinion. Of the Afghan population, 87 percent think Taliban rule would be bad for the country and support the security forces. So, when external actors, be it Russia or Iran, publicly legitimize the movement, they are not supported by the people and are not advancing the cause of stability in the region.
- Gen. Nicholson drew a distinction between Iran’s motives as a neighbor of Afghanistan and Russia’s “motiveless malignity.” He impressed his audience as speaking on the basis of hard intelligence.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources add that the Obama administration hopes to expose Moscow’s tactics and put it on the defensive, in the belief that the Russians are exploiting the White House transition to intensify their covert support of the Taliban. Pakistan, where the Taliban is allowed to maintain two sanctuaries, is almost certainly aware of the Russian and Iranian dealings with the former Islamist rulers of Afghanistan.
Russia’s intelligence chief Alexander Bortnikov, visited Pakistan recently, the first such visit in twenty years. He may have enlisted Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency as a go-between for Putin’s pro-Taliban policy.
In this ironic turn of the Afghan wheel, the Russians, who were thrown out of Afghanistan in 1987, appear to be making a comeback on the back of a past enemy, Al Qaeda’s old partner, the Taliban, aided by their former adversary Pakistan. Now they are all on the same side as Iran in their efforts to raise a roadblock against Western influence.
This exposé may prompt some hard thinking in Trump Tower for the President-elect and his top security nominees, Gen. James Mattis in Defense and Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, as to how far they are willing to go hand in hand with Moscow as a potential senior partner in America’s war on terrorism.