Zamir Kabulov – RBC: “The situation in Afghanistan is even worse than the UN thinks”

Special Representative of the President of Russia for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov in an interview with RBC assessed the first results of the Taliban rule, the prospects for recognition of the government they created and their exclusion from the terrorist lists of Russia and the UN

Zamir Kabulov

“The Taliban will have to create conditions in the country that are normal for most citizens”

— It has been more than five months since the US left Afghanistan and the Taliban came to power there. (a terrorist organization banned in Russia). The UN noted the dramatic situation in humanitarian terms, the growth of unemployment and the country's dependence on humanitarian aid. Do your assessments of the situation differ from those of the UN?

— No, they don't separate. I think the UN's assessment is somewhat overstated. The situation is actually getting worse. We talked about this more than once in previous months, and not only with your TV channel, but also with others. Here is the most cutting example. Last week, 135 children died in Afghanistan, according to an international organization. From hunger. This is inaccurate information, there is simply no more complete data. I think this example illustrates the situation more vividly than anything else.

— The UN Secretary General's report on Afghanistan says that the Taliban have killed about a hundred representatives of the previous government since coming to power. The Taliban themselves refute this figure, but do not exclude the possibility that revenge killings were possible. Does Moscow have any information in defense of the position of one of the parties?

— In this case, we do not act as either defenders or opponents of either side. We have heard information that we do not have the opportunity to double-check through our own sources. But we are talking about still ongoing civil war, and such things, unfortunately, happen there. I can neither confirm nor exclude this message.


— The Taliban made a number of promises, among which & mdash; overcome drug trafficking, allow women to work and get an education, journalists to work, including criticizing the government. So far, none of this has been implemented. In your estimation, can one rely on the statements of the Taliban government when concluding some kind of agreement with them and be sure that they will keep their promises?

— Let's start with the fact that the Taliban did not promise to overcome drug trafficking, because it is impossible. The whole world has been fighting drug trafficking for the past 30 years— the result is obvious. They promised to fight. This is first. Secondly, we have no plans to conclude any agreements with the Taliban. You are right about one thing: all these promises, if fulfilled, are extremely slow to be fulfilled. On the one hand, the Taliban indeed, in contacts with us and other foreign representatives, promised to intensify the fight against drug trafficking, based primarily on religious beliefs and ideas. But the policy of the US and the West blocked the Afghan national financial resources, disconnected the country's banking system from SWIFT, which makes it impossible to transfer money even to ordinary Afghans, not to mention international organizations, including the UN. This puts people in a situation where there are no sources of income. Therefore, Americans and all Westerners, whether they want it or not, encourage the production of drugs themselves, because it becomes almost the only source of income. We must be clear about this. And any hypocrisy on this score is simply inappropriate. With regard to other humanitarian issues, especially the rights of women and girls, in this area, very slowly, but still, something is happening. Just the other day, holidays were announced in Afghanistan in the winter because of the cold. Schools are not heated, so the school year starts in the spring. And I literally saw yesterday a message that universities will start opening on February 2. For girls will open… but in separate classes with young men. Well, we'll see. This is, of course, a small, but still progress. We said yesterday that the Taliban will have to reckon with these realities, the need to create conditions in the country that are normal for the majority of citizens. But it won't happen quickly.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021. The situation in the country escalated with the beginning of the withdrawal of troops of the international coalition led by the United States. After the start of the Taliban offensive, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and most cities surrendered without a fight. After seizing power, representatives of the Taliban movement promised that they would ensure the rights and freedoms of women within the framework of Sharia law.

The Taliban allowed women to work and study, but only if they wear a hijab that covers the entire body and face. At the same time, women were forbidden to play sports. Later, the Taliban also banned women from riding in taxis without a hijab and traveling long distances without a male escort.

Photo: Jorge Silva/Reuters

— You mentioned freezing accounts. Is there any progress on this issue?

— There are no big moves. In parts, the Americans release certain amounts, while they put forward conditions to the Taliban administration in Kabul so that the Central Bank of Afghanistan is taken out of government control. But this is a capitulation requirement. That doesn't happen. The Americans have forgotten that they lost the war in Afghanistan, and not vice versa. Therefore, it is not for them to set conditions for surrender. And this is a humiliation for any country when its central bank is under the control of any foreign state, so the Taliban reject this. If the central bank is independent, that is, controlled by the Americans, then they are going to think (this is not yet a promise) how to use its accounts to transfer humanitarian aid, salaries and many other promised deposits, in total more than $ 9.5 billion. some of them were released, but this is a drop in the ocean. This does not solve the humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban deservedly are on the UN Security Council sanctions list”

— Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said it was too early to recognize the Taliban government. What needs to change in order for Moscow to change its position?

— He wasn't the only one who said this. Both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of Russia have repeatedly said that there is a set of demands from the world community— above all, the ethnopolitical inclusiveness of the government. There are representatives of other ethnic groups in the government, but they are all members of the Taliban movement. We do not name names, specific personalities, they themselves must determine. Second— we expect the Taliban to uphold basic human rights norms. First of all, of course, this concerns women, their rights to work and other ordinary civil rights. At the same time, we again do not impose our own Russian views on this issue. There is Afghanistan with its cultural and religious traditions. Similar traditions exist in other Muslim countries, and in Arab countries. They somehow solve and regulate this issue. At least as an example, we can take the experience of other countries. When there is not just progress on this issue, but progress, then the conditions will ripen for the official recognition of the new Afghan authorities.

— On the issue of government inclusiveness, the Taliban have not yet shown much activity. How can this problem be solved?

— We will convince. In addition to our beliefs, which are by and large words, there are realities of life. The Taliban, if they came to Afghanistan seriously and for a long time and want to stay in power, will have to manage the country, and govern the country in the absence of material resources, in the absence of external assistance— not only humanitarian, but also economic assistance to the development and restoration of all branches of life of this state— will not succeed, so this factor will have to be taken into account. If there is common sense and a sense of self-preservation, then they will force them to take the necessary steps.

— In your opinion, is it time to remove the Taliban from the list of terrorist organizations banned in Russia?

— Here I would like to clarify. Yes, he has arrived. But this decision is made by the President of Russia. And there are a number of steps provided for by the legislation of the Russian Federation. My personal point of view— Yes, such a moment is coming, but at the same time we must take into account that the Taliban movement is not a terrorist organization in our country. Although every time I hear it, all the media talk about it. And there is a list of specific individuals with affiliation with the Taliban movement, who are recognized by the UN Security Council as defendants in terrorist lists.

By a 2003 decision of the Supreme Court, the Taliban movement recognized in Russia as terrorist and banned. The decision stated that the movement maintained links with illegal armed groups operating on the territory of Chechnya.

— If we are talking about the UN list, is it time to remove the Taliban from this list and was Russia ready to provide some support in this?

— We have officially spoken about this more than once, that, of course, this moment is approaching, but the speed of its approach to resolution depends on the steps that we have just talked about.

— Nevertheless, would Russia be ready to help the Taliban in this matter, to initiate such a discussion in the UN?

— Then, when the Taliban take convincing steps to fulfill the two demands of the international community— inclusion and basic human rights,— then yes, of course.

— Russian officials at various levels have declared the inadmissibility of turning Afghanistan into a stronghold of international terrorism, but at the same time, the Taliban continue to be on the UN list of terrorist organizations. Could you explain who we consider terrorists in Afghanistan, which groups?

— The Taliban deservedly are on the sanctions list of the UN Security Council for their deeds committed more than 20 years ago. This decision was made then, and now we are dealing with the consequences of that decision. Due to these circumstances, the Taliban were and remain on this list. Although during this time life did not stand still, the Taliban realized many important things, they stopped positioning themselves as an international jihadist organization and were engaged in a purely domestic agenda. As to who [is a terrorist]— yes, the situation created after the flight of the Americans from Afghanistan created favorable conditions for the activation of other, more dangerous ones. Indeed, in the list of international terrorist organizations in the first place is ISIS (a terrorist group banned in Russia.— RBC) and other groups, half a dozen or so smaller, but nevertheless international terrorist organizations that operate in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban, unlike the former Afghan government that fled and the Americans, are really at war with ISIS, they suffer significant losses. But in the absence of funding, when their own Afghan money is frozen in foreign accounts, they cannot even pay salaries to their military personnel to continue their active struggle. Again double standards and hypocrisy. And if someone wanted the Taliban to successfully suppress dangerous international terrorist groups, it was necessary to give them such an opportunity— enhance their respective capabilities.

Photo: Felipe Dana/AP

“The United States continues to develop the idea of ​​​​revenge”

— Recently, there has been much talk about the growing threat of ISIS in Afghanistan and skirmishes between the Taliban and ISIS. How dangerous is this situation and is there, perhaps, some risk of destabilization in the country against this background?

— I already said about these skirmishes in the previous answer: they are fighting for real. There is no danger in this, this is a positive moment. There is another point that I would like to draw attention to: the Taliban are just holding back the expansion of the activities of these international terrorist organizations that threaten neighbors, especially in northern Afghanistan. In addition, we have the impression that the United States, which, understandably, is in a depressing position after it had to leave Afghanistan, has retained and continues to develop the idea in the direction of revenge. They are trying to do everything possible to support the opponents of the Taliban, arm them and enable them to fight against the Taliban. In other words, they sponsor and intend to sponsor the resumption of the civil war on purely ethnic grounds. This is dangerous.

— And how likely is such a scenario?

— This scenario is already working, but the Taliban are suppressing and neutralizing it.

— So you do not exclude the possibility of a new civil war?

— I do not rule out hypothetically the possibility of peace or a new civil war. This will depend on specific cases, not only within Afghanistan, but also on external players. I mentioned one of them. The Americans still cherish the hope in this way, having frightened the neighbors of Afghanistan, to get bases on the territory of these countries in order to offer their services and conditions.

— Tajikistan recently announced the need to create a buffer zone on the border with Afghanistan. Do Moscow consider such proposals justified? Do you see the need to strengthen Russia's security in connection with the situation in Afghanistan?

— First, what kind of buffer zone are we talking about— inside Afghanistan or inside Tajikistan? As far as I understand, Tajikistan has nothing to worry about in this regard— The 201st Russian military base is located in the country. We have active cooperation on a bilateral basis within the framework of the CSTO. From this point of view, everything is fixed there. What does buffer zone mean? Inside Afghanistan to arm people, Afghans, so that they continue the war with each other? I don't think it's in our long-term interest.

— But isn't there a risk of infiltration of militants from Afghanistan to Russia now? Indeed, recently the President of Kazakhstan, Tokayev, said that militants from Afghanistan participated in the January events in the country.

— Such a risk always exists, but I would not exaggerate it. We do not yet know the results of the Kazakh authorities' investigation into the causes of the events that took place there in January. Of course, President Tokayev is probably right when he says that there were fighters from Afghanistan. But these fighters were not sent to this moment. In the south of Kazakhstan, as we knew before and guessed, a lot of Afghans who fled from Afghanistan after the Americans left and the Taliban came to power, who settled down, dug in. Yes, they must have been involved. It was a convenient occasion, perhaps even purely for selfish reasons. But let's wait for the publication of the results of the official investigations of the Kazakh authorities.

“Our embassy is operating as usual”

— You spoke about the possibility of a meeting of an expanded trio until the end of February in Kabul. Tell us what topics are on the agenda.

— Main theme— it is about inclusiveness. What we have just talked about will be discussed, but in more detailed and concrete terms. So far, we are being held back a little by coronavirus restrictions, but nevertheless, we are planning such a meeting in Kabul. In between, we will have the opportunity for other contacts in the run-up to this meeting.

— And what are the prospects for India and Iran to join this format?

— Iran has such an invitation, but refuses to accept it for the time being because it does not want to be in the same format with the United States. As for India, we are in favor, but, however, other partners, I will not specify, object, and in our country all decisions are made by consensus.

As part of the expanded “troika” Afghanistan includes Russia, the US, China and Pakistan. The Moscow format was created on the basis of the six-party consultation mechanism of the special representatives of Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and India in 2017.

— Tell us about the situation with the work of the Russian embassy in Afghanistan.

— Our embassy is operating as usual— and, I must stress, works well. All colleagues are well aware of their responsibility, they were absolutely not at a loss in the new conditions, increased momentum, established permanent and reliable contacts both with local authorities, supporting them, and with other Afghans available to them. Therefore, we have no questions for our colleagues at the embassy.

— Do you see the need for new evacuation flights from Afghanistan? And is Russia planning such?

— No. We do not plan such flights yet. But this will depend on the situation and need. As far as the embassy informs us, there is no such need at the moment. We've removed enough of them, and that's enough for now.

— What kind of humanitarian aid is Russia providing to Afghanistan and when is a new delivery of humanitarian cargo scheduled?

— I won't repeat. You tracked, such assistance has already been provided. At the direction of the President of Russia, the sides of the Ministry of Defense, with the participation of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, nine aircraft were redeployed in less than two weeks. In parallel, our Chinese and Pakistani partners are providing the same assistance, the Indians have provided assistance— 50 thousand tons of wheat, which is still on the way. At the moment, the leadership of Russia has not set such a task for us. But we understand that this question will inevitably arise due to the circumstances with which we started our conversation.

— And a little personal question. You have been involved in Afghanistan for many years. Have you ever had a desire to try yourself in a different direction or head a Russian diplomatic mission abroad or even Afghanistan— is this your calling?

— I had such offers, but I still preferred to deal with Afghanistan. First, it was in demand, as my management considered. Secondly, this is interesting to me.

Zamir Kabulov (Photo: Ramil Sitdikov/RIA Novosti)

Zamir Kabulov was born in 1954, in 1977 he graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then began working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR.

  • In 1979–1983 he worked at the Consulate General, and then at the Embassy in Iran.
  • In 1983-1987 and from 1991 to 1992 he worked at the embassy in Afghanistan.
  • The period from 1993 to 1996 he spent in Pakistan as an adviser at the Russian embassy.
  • In 1996– In 1998, he was a political adviser to the UN Special Mission in Afghanistan.
  • From 2001 to 2004, he was Deputy Director of the Third Asia Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry and simultaneously served as Executive Secretary of the Interdepartmental Commission on Afghanistan (from 2002 to 2003). He was the Special Representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Afghanistan.
  • He headed the Russian Embassy in Afghanistan in 2004–2009.
  • Since 2009, he has been the Director of the Second Asia Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
  • Since 2011— Special Representative of the President of Russia for Afghanistan.

Has a number of state awards, including the Order of Alexander Nevsky and the Order for Personal Courage.

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