Moscow ranks third for Kabul

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - Having arrived in Moscow on May 25 for a two-day visit, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said that his country would like to further expand cooperation with Russia.

Undeservedly, his visit went virtually unnoticed by Moscow's media, but it was significant in terms of Russian-Afghan relations.

First, he contradicted everything that Russian experts are saying and thinking about the situation in Afghanistan. He said it is absolutely wrong to think that Kabul controls only a small part of Afghanistan, that NATO is losing its influence, or that it cannot save the situation without the help of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Mr. Spanta said that Kabul has problems only in two of its 34 provinces - Helmand, which borders on Pakistan, and Uruzgan. Now the government regularly holds its meetings in the provinces, which alone shows that it controls the situation. It has met in Nangarhar, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kandahar. The next meetings will be held in Herat and Bamian.

Herat played host to the regional foreign minister summit, and Islamic foreign ministers will meet in Jelalabad in the fall.

Second, Mr. Spanta emphasized that Kabul intends to develop bilateral relations with Russia, ruling out participation in any alliances. He made it clear that Kabul does not want to cooperate with either the CSTO or the SCO despite Moscow's persistent efforts in this direction. As for prospects of Afghanistan joining the SCO, which have been extensively discussed recently by the media, Kabul is not going to participate in its activities even as an observer.

Third, Mr. Spanta made his second trip to Moscow in the context of Afghanistan's new foreign policy doctrine, which the Afghan Foreign Ministry officially presented on the eve of his visit. This is a typical document for such an occasion, but some of its provisions would never have passed unnoticed in Moscow.

First, the doctrine described Afghan relations with the United States and the rest of "the democratic world" as "strategic." Moreover, they are based not only on the struggle against terrorism, but also on political orientation.

Second, Afghanistan will pursue a friendly policy of cooperation with major regional powers, in particular with India, China, and Russia. For the first time in the history of bilateral relations, Kabul has allotted Russia a modest third place. When asked whether this ranking of regional powers was determined by their participation in the country's restoration, Mr. Spanta said no. He carefully chose his words to avoid offending Russia.

Indicatively, on the eve of his visit, Mr. Spanta met with Russian Ambassador Zamir Kabulov in Kabul. The press quoted Mr. Kabulov as saying that this visit was a chance for Afghanistan, and it appears that Mr. Spanta graciously brought this chance to Moscow.

There is another important point. Out of all CSTO countries, only Moscow is trying to raise the organization's prestige in Afghanistan. Central Asian republics are only concerned about their own national interests in this context. Russia's role in the CSTO implies a special responsibility for the organization, but maybe its national interests should come first. A strong country deserves different treatment. If Russia loses its positions in Afghanistan, it is unlikely to keep its Central Asian allies in its orbit of influence.

The doctrine's words about Kabul's cooperation with neighboring countries on a bilateral basis, without participation in any blocs, betray its link with the American project Greater Central Asia Partnership for Afghanistan and Neighboring Countries. The project's aim is to involve these countries in the process of Afghanistan's economic, political and social recovery.

Contrary to predictions by Russian experts, this project has been supported by all Central Asian countries, and Afghanistan is increasingly playing a key role in it. When signing a declaration on strategic partnership with Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted with good reason that the United States will not repeat the past mistakes and leave Afghanistan on its own like Russia did in 1992. She meant the collapse of the Najibullah regime, and the advent of the U.S.-trained Mujaheddin to power. Obviously, the United States has been more serious in assessing Afghanistan's importance in the region.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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