CSTO summit results: Russia will erect a barrier on the path of extremism to Central Asia

МОСКВА, 17 сентября 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.

Russia has refused to recognise the power of the Taliban in Afghanistan and, together with other CSTO members, is strengthening the Tajik-Afghan border in order to prevent the spread of extremism throughout Central Asia and minimise other threats.

These are the main results of the session of the CSTO Collective Security Council, which was held in Dushanbe on September 16 to discuss the Afghan issue. Russian President Vladimir Putin participated in it via video link.

The Collective Security Council adopted a declaration and signed documents related to peacekeeping, ensuring the activities of the CSTO troops and equipping the collective rapid reaction forces with modern weapons, military and special equipment, as well as special resources.

The Taliban is far from being recognised

The radical Taliban movement, which seized power in Afghanistan just a month ago after the flight of American troops, does not meet Moscow’s demands for the quality and content of government. Russia welcomed the Taliban’s promises to fight terrorism and drug trafficking and is now watching how these plans will be implemented – but it is in no hurry to recognise the Taliban, finding a warm response from the Tajik authorities in this. At the same time, the steps already taken by Kabul do not inspire optimism yet.

In particular, Russia insisted that the new government of the Central Asian country should take into account the interests of the entire spectrum of Afghan society. However, the transitional Government of Afghanistan consists exclusively of the Taliban, there are practically no ethnic minorities of the country, and there are no women at all. The Taliban so far only assure the world community that they will take into account the interests of minorities in the future supreme executive body. But it will be difficult for the Taliban to do so.

The reason lies not only in the predisposition of Afghanistan to a new round of civil conflict due to unsolvable ethnic, social and economic contradictions, but also in the friction among the Taliban themselves, including on tribal grounds. This explains the tendency for the entire movement, consisting of motley groups and “wings”, including completely alien inclusions, acting under the umbrella of a “promoted brand”, to be non-negotiable.

It is also necessary to keep in mind the general inability of Afghan society, which lives according to the archaic norms of the Middle Ages, to implement a model of democracy in its own country according to Western models, or at least simply adhere to international agreements.

Threats to Russia

Therefore, Russia’s current contact with representatives of the Taliban is limited only to security issues and is aimed at eliminating any risks for the Central Asian states in the post-Soviet space. These risks have not yet been removed. Despite another promise of the Taliban to prevent an escalation of tension outside the perimeter of Afghanistan, there is unrest on its northern borders.

The main problems emanating from Afghanistan for Russia are the penetration of radical Islamism into the territory of Central Asia and the recruitment of extremists from among the residents of the Central Asian republics.

In particular, the extremist group “Jamaat Ansarullah”, created from the citizens of this country, poses an immediate threat to our CSTO ally Tajikistan. It is part of the terrorist organisation “Islamic Party of Turkestan” and aims to take power in Dushanbe. It was “Jamaat Ansarullah” led by the field commander Mahdi Arsalon (Muhammad Sharifov) that the Taliban instructed to control five captured areas near the Tajik border.

We are concerned about the actions of another terrorist organisation banned in the Russian Federation, the Islamic State, which retains a strong position in Afghanistan. In addition, according to a number of reports, Al-Qaeda is trying to raise its head on the territory of this country. And although both groups are formally considered hostile to the Taliban, their presence in the region cannot but cause concern among Russia and the states of Central Asia.

Another threat is the migration crisis provoked by the West in Afghanistan. Earlier, the actions of the United States and NATO in Libya and Iraq led to the same crises. However, Moscow has already made it clear that it is not going to share the burden of responsibility with Western countries for what it has condemned.

It should be borne in mind that the migrational pressure on Central Asia and the likely outburst of Islamic radicalism there, with the subsequent arrival in the southern regions of Russia, are connected in a whole knot of contradictions.

On the one hand, the flight from Afghanistan to the north of the allies of the pro-American coalition under the guise of refugees spurs the Taliban to invade neighbouring countries to deal with them. On the other hand, it binds the authorities of the Central Asian republics to Washington through its promises of financial and organisational assistance. And in addition, many Afghan refugees, who do not know how to do anything in life except fight and at the same time have an archaic worldview, perceive the Central Asian realities as an “unrighteous life”. Sooner or later, they will try to “fix” this with the help of weapons, spurring internal contradictions in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and neighbouring countries.

There is no doubt that the Western centres of power will also try to take advantage of the Afghan migration chaos to escalate tensions in the states of Central Asia.

Drug trafficking poses a separate serious threat to our country. The naturalness of the poppy growing on the meagre Afghan land and the multibillion-dollar revenues from its sale can lead to the refusal of the “Taliban” from the declared fight against this evil. Including for reasons of internal consolidation of the movement, many of whose field commanders are tied to super-profits from drug trafficking.

Moscow responds to challenges

As the CSTO summit confirmed, Russia is not going to passively observe attempts to chaotise its southern “underbelly” and has already taken or will soon take, together with the members of this organisation, a number of preventive measures to respond to security challenges.

The most important step will be the strengthening of the Tajik-Afghan border through the collective work of the CSTO member states. In addition, military exercises, an anti-drug special operation and an interstate operation to counter illegal migration will be held within the framework of the organisation.

In addition, Russia may try to attract other states that are not members of the CSTO to mutually beneficial cooperation on this track. And here the attention is drawn to the “dual summits” of organisations that were created by the efforts of Moscow at the time.

On September 17, the day after the CSTO session, the 20th anniversary meeting of the Council of Heads of member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will be held in the capital of Tajikistan. The key moment will be a joint meeting of the CSTO and SCO member countries, at which, as expected, the Afghan topic will be raised.

Tomorrow’s SCO meeting will be held under the sign of an acute clash of interests of the countries neighbouring Afghanistan and other centres of power. Among them is Turkey, which acts as a dialogue partner of the SCO, with its ideas of neo-Ottomanism and attempts to intercept Afghan drug trafficking right at the Kabul airport. This is Iran, ready to consider the Taliban as a situational ally in the confrontation with the West. This is China, which treats Afghanistan as an important part of its transport corridor and a place for the development of cheap minerals, and for this purpose is ready to negotiate with any forces in this country. We will also mention Pakistan, whose security services have been trying to supervise the Taliban for many years.

The success of the joint meeting of the CSTO and SCO member states will depend on whether the two organisations will be able to coordinate efforts on the Afghan issue, taking into account the diverse composition of participants and their conflicting interests.

It should be noted that in recent weeks, after the flight of US troops from Kabul, the leaders of the collective West also tried to find a common line of conduct on the Afghan issue, in order to then offer it to the world as the only option. Contradictory attempts were made to secure the presence of Russia and China at the consultations on Afghanistan in the G7 at the level of heads of foreign ministries. However, both states refused to participate in the “meeting for the sake of a meeting”. In particular, because Western, primarily American, interests in destabilising the situation in Central Asia are clearly traced.

Unlike the “Big Seven” and even the SCO, it is the CSTO, where Russia enjoys an undeniable influence, that could become a centre for coordinating joint actions with our Asian partners. The military structures of the organisation are able to put a reliable barrier on the key Tajik-Afghan border. But in addition, Moscow may try to interest Beijing in cooperation on the CSTO platform, explaining to it the benefits of military and political stabilisation of the region for the Chinese logistics business.

The West, represented by the North Atlantic Alliance, mounted a cavalry charge into Afghanistan, which is far away for it, but for 20 years it has not been able to organise a viable regime in it. And now completely different centres of power will have to restore order in the region that falls within the sphere of their vital interests.