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Asia

Afghanistan brings Russia and Pakistan closer

Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Ryabkov started his two-day visit to Islamabad on Monday. The two countries will be looking at the ways to increase and sustain their influence in neighboring Afghanistan.

The presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Russia

The presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Russia

As NATO forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, the regional players are once again trying to increase their influence in the war-torn country.

Both Pakistan and Russia have long-term interests there and have had bitter conflicts over Afghanistan.

During the Cold War, Pakistan openly supported the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet forces.

Since the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and the subsequent civil war in Afghanistan, and later the emergence of the Taliban, the relations between Russia and Pakistan have continued to be antagonistic.

But it seems that the two sides are now making some efforts to improve their bilateral relations.

Nexus between the Taliban and Chechen rebels

Russia is worried about the nexus between the Chechen rebels and the Taliban

Russia is worried about the nexus between the Chechen rebels and the Taliban

Guenter Knabe, the former head of Deutsche Welle's Asia department, is of the view that Moscow has a strong interest to end the war in Afghanistan because it is afraid that the Muslim extremism might spill over from Afghanistan into Russian territories.

"They are very suspicious of any connections between the Chechen insurgents and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan comes into the focus of Russia. Everybody knows that without Pakistan the Afghanistan conflict cannot possibly be resolved," told Knabe in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

Whereas many analysts argue it is unlikely that the Pakistani state will stop supporting the Taliban completely, or change its policy of "strategic depth" towards Afghanistan, others are of the opinion that Islamabad does not have absolute control over the Taliban. Pakistan's retired General Talat Masood, who is also a defense analyst, thinks otherwise.

"Pakistan understands Russia's concerns. It realizes that any support to the radical or militant elements will give rise to the Russians’ fears in Chechnya, Dagestan and other Muslim-majority areas that are rebelling against Moscow. On the other hand, the Russians realize that the Taliban are going to stay and will have a certain amount of support among the Pashtuns in Afghanistan, and in that context they understand Pakistan's position in a realistic manner," said Masood.

Counter-terrorism and economic cooperation

Russia wants to export its oil and gas to energy-starved Afghanistan and Pakistan

Russia wants to export its oil and gas to energy-starved Afghanistan and Pakistan

As the focus of the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov's Pakistan visit is to enhance cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad to deal with the threat of terrorism, the role of Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and its alleged support to Islamists in Afghanistan remains a matter of mistrust between the two countries.

"The Taliban have support in many tribal areas of Pakistan, and that is also their region of retreat. The Pakistani government is trying to fight the Taliban of the Pakistani origin on its soil because they are endangering the very existence of Pakistan. But at the same time, among military and the ISI circles, there are people who try to use the Taliban as means of gaining stronger influence in Afghanistan," said Guenter Knabe. 

Pakistan's energy crisis is also one of the issues that the authorities in Islamabad will be taking up with the Russian deputy foreign minister.

Russia has huge oil and gas resources and is very interested in transporting them to Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. In this respect too, peace and stability in Afghanistan are crucial for the Russians.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein