Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan praised the conduct of the Taliban on Friday in the days since its takeover, saying there was no alternative to the hardline Islamist group and resistance to it would fail.
The comments by Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov reflect efforts by Russia to deepen already well-established ties with the Taliban while stopping short, for now, of recognising them as the legitimate rulers of a country Moscow tried and failed to control before the Soviet Union withdrew its last forces in 1989.
Russia wants to ensure that the instability in Afghanistan does not spill over into Central Asia, part of the former Soviet Union it regards as its own backyard, and that the region does not become a launch pad for other extreme Islamist groups.
Speaking to Reuters from Kabul by Zoom, Zhirnov said the security situation in the capital was much better than it was before the Taliban took control of it and spoke optimistically about the future.
“The mood in Kabul can be described as one of cautious hope,” said Zhirnov.
“There was a bad regime which disappeared and people are hopeful. They say it can’t be worse so it should be better. But this is another test for the Taliban to pass. After they restore order, they should start improving the socio-economic situation,” he said.
Kabul has been largely calm, except in and around the airport where 12 people have been killed since Sunday, NATO and Taliban officials said.
Zhirnov’s comments contrast sharply with those of some Western politicians and rights activists who are deeply sceptical that the Taliban has moderated its violence towards those they see as incompatible with their nascent emirate governed by strict Islamic law.
Zhirnov said the facts on the ground had changed and the Taliban had made a set of encouraging pledges.
“We can’t wave reality aside. They (the Taliban) are the de-facto authorities. There is no alternative to the Taliban in Afghanistan,” said Zhirnov.
The son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the main leaders of Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, has pledged to hold out against the Taliban from his stronghold in the Panjshir valley north of Kabul.
Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh has also said he is in Afghanistan and the “legitimate caretaker president” after President Ashraf Ghani fled.
Zhirnov said Saleh’s declaration violated the constitution and that Panjshir-based attempts to resist the Taliban were doomed.
“They have no military prospects. There are not many people there. As far as we know they have 7,000 armed people. And they already have problems with fuel. They tried to fly a helicopter but they have no petrol and no supplies,” he said.
Zhirnov also questioned the idea that all of the Afghans trying to flee the country were doing so because of the Taliban.
“Many people now see this situation now as a possible ticket to a new life (in the West) and this may not be related to the Taliban,” he said of the chaotic exodus.