MOSCOW (AP) – A Taliban delegation visited Moscow on Thursday to provide assurances that their rapid gains on the ground in Afghanistan do not threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia.
Russia’s foreign ministry said the Kremlin’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, met with the Taliban delegation to express concern over the escalation and tensions in northern Afghanistan. The ministry said Kabulov called on the Taliban “to prevent them from spreading outside the country’s borders.”
“We received assurances from the Taliban that they would not violate the borders of Central Asian countries and also their guarantees of security for foreign diplomatic and consular missions in Afghanistan,” the ministry said.
Earlier this week, progress by the Taliban forced hundreds of Afghan soldiers to flee across the border into Tajikistan, which hosts a Russian military base. Tajikistan, in turn, called on 20,000 military reservists to strengthen its southern border with Afghanistan.
Russian officials have expressed concern that the Taliban wave could destabilize the former Soviet Central Asian nations north of Afghanistan.
In comments from Russia’s Tass news agency, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Sohail Shaheen said their delegation came to Moscow to “assure us that we are not allowing anyone to use Afghan territory to attack Russia or neighboring countries.”
“We have very good relations with Russia,” he was quoted as saying by Tass, adding that the rebels remain committed to a peaceful political solution in Afghanistan.
Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator and reached out to feuding Afghan factions as it has jockeyed with the United States for influence in the country.
It has hosted several rounds of negotiations on Afghanistan, most recently in March, involving the Taliban – although Russia has labeled them a terrorist organization.
Russia this week expressed readiness to support Central Asian nations that are part of the Moscow-dominated collective security treaty organization.
“We will do everything we can, including using the capabilities of the Russian military base at Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan, to prevent any aggressive movement against our allies,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned on Wednesday.