Karzai visits Moscow as Russia eyes greater role in Afghanistan
During President Karzai's visit, Afghanistan and Russia are likely to sign agreements on political, social, economic, and defense cooperation initiatives.
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Making the increased role of Russia possible
Russia has shed its concern about the presence of NATO and US troops in its backyard, and sees the threat of terrorism from Afghanistan as a top priority. It also now sees an opportunity to maximize its leverage with the US and NATO by using its influence on Central Asian countries.Skip to next paragraph
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Fahim Dashty, the editor of Kabul Weekly, points out that NATO itself changed its tune on a Russian role in Afghanistan because of its “need for a northern route into Afghanistan and the growing threat of the Taliban in the north.” The southern supply route of NATO that runs through Pakistan has been severely compromised by the growing number of attacks by insurgent and criminal groups. If NATO were to fail in Afghanistan, it would cost both Russia and NATO, he said.
“Military assistance from Russia will be welcome,” says Mr. Dashty, a former close associate of Ahmed Shah Masood, who led the armed resistance against the Soviet troops.
“The goals of the Russian Federation are quite different from that of the Soviet Union,” he says, although he was quick to reject the possibility of any Russian troops on Afghan soil.
A recent joint counternarcotics raid with Russian counternarcotics officials highlighted both the possibilities as well as limitation of a Russian role.
The raid last fall led to the recovery of a large quantity of heroin, but was criticized by President Karzai, who lashed out at Russian interference. Observers say Karzai was possibly preempting any political fallout.
However, senior government official and political analyst Najib Manalai says that while “there was a strong response from the government, there was no apparent reaction from the public. There have been many changes since the departure of the Russians. The emotional baggage of the past has been swept away by the misdeeds of the mujahideen.”
While Karzai’s anger was in keeping with his frequent outbursts against the international community, the subsequent conciliatory overtures were unusual.
Less than a week later, Karzai called Russian President Medvedev, and the two emphasized Russia’s role in Afghanistan including counternarcotics cooperation. As Western powers ready themselves for an exit, “the relationship with Russia is going to be key in the future,” says Candace Rondeaux of the International Crisis Group.
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