By Musa Khan Jalalzai
June 23, 2015
Secret links between the Taliban, Northern Alliance and Russian intelligence are a matter of great concern not only for Afghanistan, but also for the US, UK and the NATO alliance. Russia has started reconnecting with its old intelligence and social contacts in Afghanistan, which has proved to be very effective in changing the mindset of the Afghan politicians towards the US and NATO presence and their failed strategies against the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) in the region. Russia and China are trying to counter the US influence in Afghanistan, and its efforts to destabilise Central Asia and Chinese Turkistan. The Russian government is trying to reach every religious and political group and warlord in the Afghan state institutions to persuade them that Russia is no longer a threat to the national integration of Afghanistan. The country needs broader cooperation from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the fight against IS and Taliban insurgents in Central Asia.
The Russian military intelligence (GRU) and its Federal Security Bureau (FSB) view the Taliban and IS’s influence in Afghanistan as a great threat to the national security of Russia. In May 2013, the GRU Chief, Lieutenant General Igor Sergun warned that military developments in Afghanistan are a serious challenge to international stability: “A diversified terrorist network, including suicide bombers training camps have already been established in the country, and the Taliban has close links with foreign terrorist structures whose militants, having gained combat experience in Afghanistan, could be sent to other hot spots across the world.”
As we all know, the Sovietised Afghan intelligence infrastructure has changing priorities vis-à-vis the ISI, RAW, CIA and MI6, NATO’s joint intelligence network and other agencies operating within the country. The Russian government has entered into deep negotiations with those groups and people that view the NATO and US presence as a bigger threat to their country’s unity and geographical integration. In 1995, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered the reorganisation of the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK), which resulted in the establishment of FSB in 2003. The FSB has set its sights set on the internal developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and wants these states to change their attitude towards Russia. Afghanistan’s internal stability has been, and still is, an important element in Russia’s relations with specific international actors, including Pakistan, Iran and China.
In 2001, having continued his support to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, Mr Putin pledged military assistance to the group and said that he saw no role for the Taliban in a future Afghan government. The Northern Alliance entered Kabul after Mr Putin’s telephone call to George Bush. In 2001, Pravda quoted the Debka Information Service as saying that Vladimir Putin had informed George Bush that dozens of his special intelligence agents (Uzbek, Kazakh and Mongol) had made contact with the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, and that they would persuade them to join the Northern Alliance. However, every member that they met received a password, which was only known to the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK) and KGB agents accompanying the Northern Alliance commanders during the Kabul attack in 2001.
Before attacking Kabul, Debka reported that agents of the Russian intelligence distributed millions of dollars amongst the Taliban commanders and leadership in order to persuade them to retreat from Kabul. Finally, a deal was signed that said that the Taliban would allow the Northern Alliance to enter Kabul. When the US and NATO invaded Afghanistan, Russian intelligence provided intelligence equipment and ordered commanders of the Northern Alliance to assist the Americans in overthrowing the Taliban regime. In 2002, after the fall of the Taliban regime, a group of Russians started a diplomatic mission in Kabul. From 2002 to 2005, Russia provided Afghanistan free weapons. In 2010, the Russian army delivered 20,000 AK-47 rifles and ammunition to the Afghan police. In 2011, President Karzai followed up with his third official visit to Moscow. The recent Carnegie research carried out by four Russian researchers indicated that Afghanistan is no more a threat to Russia, even if the Taliban comes to power in Kabul. Russian interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan are evident from the recent distance between Pakistan and the United States.
The growing Russian influence in Afghanistan and its rapprochement with Pakistan is a new and positive change in its foreign policy. The so-called war on terrorism in Afghanistan and the US and NATO’s negative approach towards the country has caused the deaths of nearly 100,000 Pakistani citizens and military personnel. Now, Pakistan understands that it needs to change its approach to Russia and Afghanistan in order to rebuild its political, military and diplomatic image in the international community. Pakistan’s growing distrust of the United States and its policies in Afghanistan have forced the country to change its diplomatic priorities and mechanism of conflict resolution in South Asia. The country’s friendly relations with Afghanistan and its military cooperation agreement with Russia marks an important shift in its foreign policy. After the strategic agreement between the United States and India, Pakistan has decided to open a new window of friendship with Russia and enter into new alliances with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Pakistan is helping the Afghan security forces in fighting against the Taliban and is facilitating the reconciliation process, in order to stabilise Afghanistan. The visit of Pakistan’s army chief to Russia was an effort to open a new chapter in diplomatic and military relations. Due to the US’s inconsistent policies towards Saudi Arabia and its rapprochement with nuclear Iran, the Saudi King has ordered his Defence Minister to ask President Putin for nuclear and military cooperation. The unannounced arrival of the Saudi Defence Minister in Moscow last week and his meeting with President Putin is a dramatic development in Middle Eastern politics. Saudi Arabia has understood the mindset of the US’s military too late, as the nuclear deal with Iran has entered the final phase. As all of Afghanistan’s neighbours want peace in the country and understand that war is not in anyone’s interests, the United States has failed to implement its Bilateral Security Agreement or use its political and military influence to stabilise the country. Afghanistan is embroiled in an unending civil war because the state’s army has failed to tackle the insurgency professionally.
Musa Khan Jalalzai is the author of Punjabi Taliban