Moscow, Russia – Russia said on Wednesday the Taliban must meet expectations on human rights and inclusive governance to be recognised by international governments, but acknowledged efforts by its leadership to stabilise Afghanistan.
The comments from the Kremlin’s envoy to Afghanistan came during talks in the Russian capital with the Taliban, with Moscow aiming to project influence over Central Asian and urge action against what it says is a growing threat of Islamic State fighters in the region.
Taliban representatives ahead of Moscow met recently with European Union and US officials and travelled to Turkey to win official recognition and aid from the international community after their takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August.
The Kremlin’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said on Wednesday that “of course” the question was raised, but that official acknowledgement of Taliban rule could only come when they “start fulfilling the expectations of the international community on human rights and inclusion”.
The Taliban delegation was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi, a senior figure in the new Afghan leadership who led talks with the European Union and the United States last week.
“The isolation of Afghanistan is not in the interest of any side,” he said in Moscow. “This has been proven in the past.”
“The government of Afghanistan is ready to address all the concerns of the international community with all clarity, transparency and openness.”
The Taliban badly need allies as Afghanistan’s economy is in a parlous state with international aid cut off, food prices rising and unemployment spiking.
Women’s rights under the Islamist regime are a top concern, and this week Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of the most senior figures in the Taliban government, hailed suicide bombers, calling them “heroes of Islam.”
The talks came after President Vladimir Putin warned IS fighters were gathering in Afghanistan to spread discord in former Soviet republics flanking Russia.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who addressed the gathering and criticised the absence of US officials, reiterated those concerns, saying “numerous terrorist groups” including IS and Al Qaeda have been seeking to exploit a security vacuum.
Lavrov noted the Taliban’s “efforts to stabilise the military and political situation and set up work of the state apparatus.”
Calls to unite
The meeting came amid concern over a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and Brussels has pledged one billion euros (US$1.2bn approx) in aid after the hardline group’s takeover.
Kabulov in Moscow urged the international community to abandon “bias” and unite to help the Afghan people.
“Not everyone likes the new government in Afghanistan, but by punishing the government, we punish the whole people,” he said.
He said that a joint statement from all 10 participating countries concluding the talks would call on the United Nations to convene a donor conference to raise funds for Afghanistan.
Moscow has reached out to the Taliban and hosted its representatives several times in recent years, even though the Taliban is a designated terrorist organisation in Russia.
Russian officials have voiced a slew of security-related concerns since the Taliban wrested control of Afghanistan and foreign troops pulled out after nearly 20 years.
The Russian president cautioned last week that some 2,000 fighters loyal to the Islamic State group had converged in northern Afghanistan, adding that their leaders planned to send them into neighbouring Central Asian countries disguised as refugees.
After the Taliban’s takeover, Russia ran military drills alongside ex-Soviet countries neighbouring Afghanistan.
Lavrov has previously warned that drug trafficking from Afghanistan had reached “unprecedented” levels, a concern echoed by the Kremlin during meetings with other Central Asia countries and China.
Despite reaching out to the Taliban, Russia has made clear it is not moving towards formal recognition of the Islamist regime.
In the 1980s, Moscow fought a disastrous decade-long war in Afghanistan that killed up to two million Afghans, forced seven million more from their homes and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet troops.