The Taliban said on Thursday that Russia had agreed to send more economic aid to the embattled militant group, a rare political overture aimed at curbing the group’s reach in a region dominated by the United States and the rival Pakistan army.
The text of a conference call which was broadcast in Kabul appeared to confirm that the meeting had taken place, though no details were given of its outcome. The Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, who attended the talks, said after the talks in the Russian capital that the London talks had failed and that “our jihad to liberate Afghanistan will continue unabated”.
The announcement came amid signs that the Taliban were attempting to bolster their role in a broader regional landscape dominated by the United States and an array of regional powers. The group has entered a years-long process of talks with the Afghan government for a negotiated end to the 17-year conflict. A meeting is due to take place in the fall with Russia, Pakistan, China and Iran.
Russia, however, has had a longstanding relationship with the Taliban, which it backed against the Russian-backed Mujahideen during the 1980s. In a statement to the Moscow-based newspaper Izvestia, the Taliban said that Russia had agreed to support them with more economic aid and “to support” the Taliban’s ongoing engagement with Kabul, according to the Arabic-language news channel al-Jazeera. The group thanked Russia for declaring Sept. 8 as the “International Day of Martyrs of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.
Akhundzada also tweeted a video of the conference call, in which he met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, officials in the Kremlin and Qutbiddin Hemayat, the top religious affairs official in Uzbekistan. Both Putin and Ryabkov also made appearances in the video.
In a briefing on Thursday after the call, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow was still assessing its “last participation” in the Taliban talks.
“We are deciding our final participation in the meeting,” Zakharova said.
She said the meeting was of “significant significance, for the time-being” and that Russia appreciated the Taliban’s participation. She added that “it must be pointed out that even the U.S. is no longer able to shape the world as it would have liked it to be, for there are so many other players which the U.S. has to share space with, including the Afghan Taliban.”
Akhundzada spoke against the backdrop of a new body officially created in Kabul this month – the Council of Taliban Political Affairs. “In the history of time we say that there has never been a better time than today to join the jihad,” the Taliban leader said in the video.
Senior Taliban figures said that the group would continue to seek financial assistance from foreign donors after Moscow said that the next meeting would bring together Iran, Pakistan, China and Kazakhstan.
The new body, the Taliban said, would enhance coordination between the groups.
The group’s decision to return to the Moscow meeting comes amid expectations that the Afghan peace process will be called off at least temporarily due to U.S. moves to change his status with the Afghan constitution. The announcement of the recent Afghan cabinet reshuffle has raised questions about how much influence President Ashraf Ghani really has over his own government.
While Ghani voiced concern about the moves — which included dropping his deputy as foreign minister — he has so far avoided an explanation as to why Akhundzada was also sacked. Ghani and Akhundzada also reportedly differed on the importance of the end of fighting between the Afghan army and the Taliban.