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Putin: We worry about Afghanistan’s security
August 2, 2013, 4:23 pm


Russia and Tajikistan have agreed to intensify their efforts to combat terrorism [PPIO]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the country’s military to assess the risks posed by the possible withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

President Putin discussed Afghanistan’s status with Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, who is on an official visit to Moscow.

“We had a useful exchange of views on issues on the international agenda. In particular, I note our common position on the situation in Afghanistan, including in connection with the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan in 2014,” Putin said following the talks on Friday.

The White House has been considering withdrawing US troops, even speeding up the process, in 2014. US President Barack Obama had previously pledged to leave a small US contingent, but even that is uncertain.

The removal of foreign troops could pose a threat to Tajikistan, which borders war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Any instability could also pose a threat to Russian security due to its own border with Tajikistan.

“President Vladimir Putin’s orders are straightforward: to assess all risks and to help the Tajik armed forces face these risks,” Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

Experts say Russia has a tough choice choosing between the large presence of international forces in Central Asia and stability in the region.

Destabilising factors

Some international analysts also feel that Afghanistan is capable of solving its internal security issues on its own, and that any further presence of international troops could destabilise the country.

“At the moment, US [and their allied] troops accomplish the task adequately for all the parties concerned – they counter terrorism. But at some point they may become a destabilising factor,” Nikita Mendkovich, an expert on Afghanistan and Central Asian Countries, told The BRICS Post.

“When national powers are strong enough to counter Al-Qaeda and [the] Taliban on their own, the local population may feel uncomfortable with the presence of foreign troops. That’s a sort of humiliation, regardless of the contingent tasks,” Mendkovich said.

Natalia Khanova, an expert with the Centre of Contemporary Afghan Studies, says Russia is troubled by the presence of NATO troops in Central Asia, but has come to see that as the lesser of two evils since it keeps threats from Central Asia at bay.

“Russia is worried about destabilisation of the situation in the region once troops leave Afghanistan, as the Afghan forces currently are not really able to solve security issues,” Khanova told The BRICS Post.

Politics and the Taliban

Afghanistan is set to hold presidential elections next spring, but some observers believe the polls could further undercut the security situation. According to media reports, tribal elements in the country have called on postponing the election, citing poor security conditions. Others want the tenure of President Hamid Karzai extended.

“This is another threat for stability in the country and it is hard to predict [the composition of] the ruling regime and who will take power,” Khanova says.

Khanova also disagrees with the view that the Taliban is seeking to expand their territory beyond Afghanistan.

“They have the regions where they live and move. And their interest is to take power in Afghanistan, not outside. Neighbouring regions are obviously vulnerable areas, where [the Taliban] can hide. But in this regard we should speak about the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, not the border with Tajikistan, where the situation is much better,” Khanova said.

Russia and Tajikistan have agreed to intensify their efforts to combat terrorism, coordinating through the 2002 Collective Security Treaty Organization, treaties of the Commonwealth of Independent States formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

“Both Russia and Tajikistan place great importance on participation in these organisations,” Putin told reporters Friday.

Russia’s options

If US and NATO troops go ahead with the planned pullout, Russia might take as yet undetermined actions to ensure stability, while enhancing primary trade relations with Kabul and protecting its economic interests in the country.

“Fuel supplies, supplies of combustibles and lubricants are the main aspects of our partnership, in addition to the training of the Afghan forces at the Russian training centres, which we have already seen,” Mendkovich said.

Putin’s recent statements can be seen as a reflection of the Russian view that Afghan terrorism is a threat to Russia and all the countries in the region.

“Starting from the 2000’s the Taliban has been in a state of war with Russia beginning with the conflict in Chechnya,” Mendkovich said.

“Many terrorist attacks on Russian territory, including the one at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, were prepared at the Pakistani bases of the Afghan Taliban.”

The 2011 suicide attack at Domodedovo’s international arrival hall killed 37 people and injured 200.

By Daria Chernyshova in Moscow, Russia for The BRICS POST

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