International Cooperation and the Role of the Regions in the Revival of Afghanistan

02 October 2023

A meeting of the Moscow Format of consultations on Afghanistan was held in Kazan, attended by representatives of the Taliban movement. This movement, which came back to power in Afghanistan in 2023, has been recognized as a terrorist movement in Russia and the UN. The event discussed the inclusiveness of the Taliban government, the fight against terrorism and drug crime.

The meeting covered key topics including the current situation in Afghanistan, inter-Afghan reconciliation, regional security and the country’s post-conflict revival. The session was chaired by Zamir Kabulov, special representative of the Russian President for Afghanistan and director of the Second Asian department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This is not the first time that Taliban representatives have visited Kazan. Earlier they took part in the Russia – Islamic World: KazanForum International Economic Forum.

It should be noted that the previous meeting of the Moscow Format on Afghanistan was held in Moscow last year. This format was established in 2017 to support the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

Participants in the Moscow Format of consultations on Afghanistan included representatives of Afghanistan, led by Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, Iran, Turkmenistan, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. Delegations from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Türkiye were guests of the event.

Rustam Minnikhanov, Rais of the Republic of Tatarstan and chairman of the Group of Strategic Vision «Russia – Islamic World», was the first to deliver his welcoming remarks. He mentioned the first session of the Moscow Format on Afghanistan in 2017, where 11 countries of the region expressed their support for the settlement of the Afghan crisis and national reconciliation. ‘Over the years, this unique mechanism of consultations has proved its high efficiency and relevance despite changes in the political situation in Afghanistan,’ Rustam Minnikhanov noted. The Head of the Republic of Tatarstan spoke about the region, which is one of the leading and dynamically developing in the Russian Federation. ‘Tatarstan is at the crossroads of the most important paths uniting different states, and the republic is home to representatives of 173 nationalities that preserve traditions and cultures. In 922, Islam was adopted at the state level, which contributed to the formation of a unique Russian civilization uniting the traditions of the West and the East, the North and the South’, the Rais of the Republic of Tatarstan noted. Minnikhanov emphasized the importance of Tatarstan’s interaction with the Islamic world and active participation in international events, such as KazanForum, the Global Youth Forum and others, as well as the expansion of economic and humanitarian cooperation with Muslim partners. He also noted that in the Republic of Tatarstan there is a growing interest of socio-political and business circles in cooperation with Afghanistan. This is confirmed by the visit of the Afghan delegation and participation of Tatarstan companies in Afghanistan. Rustam Minnikhanov expressed his gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation for supporting the Moscow Format in Kazan and hoped for successful outcomes of the event.

Then, Special Representative of the Russian President for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov read out the welcoming remarks of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in which he welcomed the participants of the fifth meeting of the Moscow Format of consultations on Afghanistan. He expressed special gratitude to Head of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov and the Government of Tatarstan for excellent organization and hospitality. Lavrov noted that the Moscow Format has an open and universal character, which makes it possible to bring together the positions of immediate neighbors and other regional players regarding the development of relations with the current government of Afghanistan. This harmonization of positions contributes to the smooth integration of the country into the region in various areas. Lavrov also expressed his concern about the activation of western players in the Afghan direction and stressed that ‘a full-fledged unification of efforts between the countries of the region and NATO states is possible only if the latter recognize full responsibility for the results of their twenty-year military presence in Afghanistan, which ended in fiasco’. The Russian Foreign Minister called for special vigilance and participation in the post-conflict revival of the country and emphasized the unacceptability of the return of the military infrastructure of the United States and its allies to the territory of Afghanistan. The minister noted the need to include representatives of national and confessional minorities in Afghanistan’s state governance and expressed hope for the intensification of counter-terrorism, anti-narcotics efforts and the continuation of various contacts with Afghanistan. ‘We expect a successful reconfiguration of power in Afghanistan,’ he noted. Lavrov appreciated the active participation of Tatarstan and other regions of Russia in strengthening Russian-Afghan relations and wished successful discussions and all the best to the participants of the meeting.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, acting Afghan foreign minister of the Interim Government of Afghanistan, a member of the leadership of the Taliban movement banned in Russia, expressed gratitude to the Government of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan for the invitation to this meeting at the fifth meeting of the Moscow Format of consultations.

He noted that two years ago, on October 16 2021, when their delegation was in Moscow, the Taliban had taken control of the capital in Afghanistan. In his speech he explained that the main root of the crisis in the country was the application of foreign models and approaches to Afghanistan’s internal problems, ignoring the geography, history, culture, religious and social values of that country.

Muttaqi also stressed that over the past 20 years, the inclusive regime of the West has not made any significant achievements despite considerable efforts, including financial support and support from various countries. He noted that the main reason for the collapse of this regime was external interests that emerged at a time of internal crisis of legitimacy, which caused resistance within the country.

Muttaqi noted that Afghanistan has faced many crises over the past 45 years and that it is important to take into account the history and culture of this country. He stressed that their government seeks religious and national legitimacy, taking into account the interests of the people.

The acting foreign minister of Afghanistan expressed hope that other countries and regions will also take these aspects into consideration while proposing models of governance for Afghanistan. He emphasized the importance of formal participation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in various fields to ensure peace and stability in the region.

Muttaqi assured that they have been working hard for the security and economic development of the country in the last two years. ‘We assured you of security in Afghanistan and promised that Afghanistan will not allow any threat to the world, especially to the neighboring countries. And this promise has been well fulfilled. In the last 2 years, while restoring the political security and economic base of our government, we have accelerated the fight against terrorist groups and were able to destroy a part of ISIL very professionally,’ he said.

Amir Khan Muttaqi continued his speech by drawing attention to several key points: first, he emphasized that with the end of hostilities in Afghanistan, the time has come to restore security and political stability. He expressed the country’s readiness to implement regional connectivity projects targeting interested countries in the region and emphasized the importance of economic orientation of Afghanistan’s foreign policy. They are ready to provide opportunities for the development of regional connectivity, including transport and energy. Secondly, Afghanistan is ready for economic cooperation, trade and investment without any discrimination. He emphasized that the country will provide the necessary facilities and amenities for projects in various fields, including energy, agriculture, communications and railway lines. Thirdly, Afghanistan looks forward to cooperation in border security with neighboring countries to prevent smuggling and other threats. Muttaqi called for collective efforts in this area and against drug trafficking. Fourthly, on behalf of the Afghan government, he expressed appreciation for political and diplomatic engagement with many countries. He also mentioned China’s action to establish diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, which will certainly inspire other countries to cooperate. Finally, Afghanistan welcomes tourists, diplomats, humanitarian workers, journalists and researchers from around the world.

In conclusion, Amir Khan Muttaqi expressed Afghanistan’s readiness for positive engagement based on legitimate interests and looked forward to regional and global support for security in Afghanistan.

Continuing the session, Zamir Kabulov said, ‘Non-regional states prefer to focus solely on gender issues of the Afghan problem that the country is facing and essentially ignore critical socio-economic issues. We are aware of the designs of the Westerners, which appear to be aimed at taking the initiative from the regionalists. They seek to drive a wedge by drawing only selected partners into their orbit, bypassing others. The collective West cannot be allowed to avoid responsibility for its failed 20-year experiment in Afghanistan or to shift this responsibility onto the shoulders of the regionalists’.

Zamir Kabulov noted that Kabul authorities, in addition to last year’s ban on opioid cultivation, officially banned cannabis cultivation in March of this year. ‘Judging by expert assessments, this is beginning to yield positive results. However, on the flip side, a worrying trend is being recorded in the production of synthetic drugs, primarily methamphetamine,’ he said.

Kabulov also expressed hope for additional constructive steps by Kabul to form an ethno-political inclusive Afghan cabinet. ‘In the future, this could become the basis for official recognition of the new Afghan leadership, bilateral contacts and broader ties in the regional context. We give priority to the development of trade and economic ties, and one of the most promising areas already at this stage is the development of the system of international transport corridors, primarily the North-South ITC and its eastern branch, as well as the project of the international transport route Russia (Orenburg region) - Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan - Afghanistan. In addition, a number of Russian companies, such as KAMAZ, Tatneft and others, are interested in entering the Afghan market,’ he added.

Addressing the guests and participants of the event, Ambassador Yue Xiaoyong, special representative of the People’s Republic of China, said that China was pleased to have the opportunity to come together in the beautiful city of Kazan. He also expressed gratitude to his Russian colleagues and Mr. Kabulov’s team for the efficient organization and thoughtfulness of the event.

Referring to the situation in Afghanistan, the PRC representative emphasized their close relationship with Afghanistan. He deplored the suffering of the Afghan people, noting that China shares their joys and difficulties. He also noted that Afghanistan managed to survive the most difficult phase last year thanks to the active support of regional countries. The Chinese representative expressed appreciation to the Afghan interim government for the steps taken towards economic recovery and improving the quality of life of the people. Yue Xiaoyong emphasized that Afghanistan is now going through a period of transition and there are challenges in various fields such as governance, humanitarian situation and fight against terror. He called for active work at the regional and international level and noted that China has contributed to the development of Afghanistan’s transport and agricultural infrastructure, ‘In the past more than two years, China has provided 350 million yuan to Afghanistan and this was financial and material support towards the development of transport and improving the quality of Afghanistan’s agricultural products and now 98 % of Afghanistan’s agricultural products are of the highest quality.’

The speaker added that China has promoted practical cooperation between the countries, contributing to Afghanistan’s internal growth. The PRC has published its position on the Afghan issue, including governance, counter-terrorism, humanitarian issues, refugee issues, anti-narcotics policy and other aspects. ‘China expressed its willingness to intensify cooperation and coordination with all parties present at the meeting on Afghan issues to improve the situation in Afghanistan and help the country revive. My country proposes to further intensify dialogue and engagement to build an inclusive government in Afghanistan with moderate reasonable forces. We believe this is a prerequisite for lasting peace and stability,’ he added.

The ambassador called for respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and right to self-determination in all important matters and expressed concern that some forces outside the region were using the issues of terrorism and water allocation, including boundary waters, to achieve their goals, and stressed the importance of a peaceful and sustainable resolution of these issues.

Iranian President’s Special Representative for Afghan Affairs Hassan Kazemi Qomi emphasized in his speech that Afghanistan has suffered from occupation and its infrastructure has been severely damaged. Qomi expressed dissatisfaction that the United States and its allies are not taking responsibility for their interference and creating problems in Afghanistan. He noted that the United States continues to try to provoke crisis and destabilization in Afghanistan through various initiatives, such as contact groups or under the cover of the UN. ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran calls for unity, solidarity and philanthropy based on common positions to solve the complex problems faced by Afghanistan,’ Hassan Kazemi Qomi noted.

He pointed out that some countries, including the United States, are acting in the interests that do not take into account Afghanistan’s national interests and that the current Afghan government must address threats such as terrorism and drug trafficking. The Iranian representative also expressed hope that the interim government would be able to fulfill its commitments, including the establishment of a new constitution, gender equality, representation of all ethnic and religious minorities, and the security of neighbors. Responding to the needs of ethnic groups in Afghanistan, managing migration and caring for the diaspora of Afghans in neighboring countries, as well as taking into account internal migrations in the country, were important tasks, in his view.

The speaker mentioned the identity-based ties between Iran and Afghanistan and the importance of interaction between their communities, especially given the common language and neighborhood. He also noted the existence of common climate challenges, such as water scarcity and drought, which affect the entire region. He emphasized the need for joint efforts to address water resources, agricultural and industrial development. Iran expressed readiness to cooperate and assist Afghanistan in fighting hunger, maintaining fuel prices and addressing migration issues of young Afghans living in Iran. This meeting was recognized as an important step towards enhancing stability in the region and Iran expressed its deep appreciation to Russia for hosting it.

The meeting continued with the speech by Pakistani Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Asif Ali Khan Durrani. The speaker expressed gratitude for the participation of the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan and delegations from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Türkiye. He noted that Pakistan had expressed its readiness to cooperate with the Afghan authorities and help the Afghan people. He also emphasized that Afghanistan was going through key events and it was the right time to review the efforts made in the interest of the country. Asif Ali Khan Durrani spoke about the importance of fighting corruption, ensuring security and promoting trade in the region. The speaker also noted that despite some achievements, such as the fight against poppy cultivation, challenges remain for Afghanistan, including the inclusion of women’s rights and the fight against terrorist groups. He called on the international community to maintain its support to Afghanistan given the serious humanitarian situation and hunger faced by the Afghan population, ‘Today 50 million Afghans face food insecurity in the coming months 2 million may face hunger. These are not just numbers; these are people, men, women, boys, girls, who have hope and aspirations. We must not abandon them.’

In his statement, the representative of Pakistan noted that the current approach to cooperation with the interim Afghan Government needed to be reviewed, ‘Pakistan has identified four key principles for this approach. First, engagement with the Afghan Government must demonstrate the resolve of the international community. This includes increased assistance for Afghanistan’s efforts to combat poppy cultivation. Second, Pakistan calls for a balanced approach that recognizes the diversity of challenges Afghanistan faces. That approach should be flexible and geared towards addressing complex problems. Third, it is important to develop interconnected economic and infrastructure projects in the region, such as the trans-Afghan railway, as a way to stimulate sustainable development. Fourth, humanitarian support to Afghanistan should not be dependent on political considerations. It requires firm assurances and commitments from the international community. Pakistan calls for a regional approach and cooperation in efforts to address the challenges in Afghanistan. Regional stability and peace are strategic objectives for the region, and Pakistan is committed to moving in that direction.’

At the meeting, Pavan Kapoor, Envoy Plenipotentiary of India to the Russian Federation, emphasized the deep historical and cultural ties between India and Afghanistan. He added that their shared past is their strength and is synonymous with long-term relations. India has been actively cooperating with Afghanistan with more than 500 projects in various fields such as transport, health, energy and education. ‘Over the last decade, India has invested over $3 billion in Afghanistan, which underlines the strength of our partnership. India is also actively supporting the education of Afghan students through scholarships and online education. We are further developing scholarship programs starting August 2021. There are now 3 500 Afghans studying in India. In addition, India is providing humanitarian assistance and support to women and children in Afghanistan, including hygiene kits and other essential commodities,’ Pavan Kapoor said. He added that India is actively working with international organizations to provide humanitarian support to Afghanistan and is also developing economic and trade initiatives to support the Afghan economy. The envoy plenipotentiary stressed that India is a neighbor of Afghanistan and has legitimate security and economic interests. ‘My country is keen to maintain peace, security and stability in Afghanistan, as these factors are important for the entire region and the world at large,’ the speaker concluded his speech.

Special Representative of the President of Uzbekistan for Afghanistan Ismatullah Irgashev expressed satisfaction with the holding of the fifth meeting of the Moscow Format and stressed that the atmosphere and the presence of guests from Afghanistan, led by Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, created favorable conditions for open and honest discussion of important issues that deserve the attention of the entire international community. Irgashev agreed with his colleagues, saying it was important to include the Afghan delegation in the discussion of issues related to Afghanistan. He highlighted that this approach is effective as it allows Afghan representatives to hear the views and proposals of other countries, as well as share information on measures taken to help Afghanistan. Ismatullah Irgashev also expressed gratitude for holding the meeting in Kazan and welcomed the presence of representatives from Qatar, Türkiye, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. Irgashev emphasized that Afghanistan is going through a difficult situation and the international community should not leave it to face its problems alone. He supported proposals to “non-politicize” humanitarian aid and the need to ensure peace and stability in the country.

Ismatullah Irgashev stressed the importance of the Asian Development Bank’s decision to return to Afghanistan and finance the power transmission line project, which will enable Afghanistan to become an electricity exporter. Ismatullah Irgashev also expressed support for the idea that Afghanistan could become a key link in the North-South transport corridor.

He went on to address the drug trade, ‘Afghan authorities have arrested more than 4 000 people involved in drug production. We know that over the past year, more than 600 large and small clandestine laboratories producing heroin and other drugs have been destroyed and 13 000 hectares of arable land have been cleared. However, synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine continue to spread. It is therefore important to continue efforts in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism.’ Ismatullah Irgashev called on the international community and regional countries to cooperate more actively with the Afghan authorities in combating the threat of terrorism and drug trafficking and emphasized the importance of cooperation with the Afghan authorities in the fight against the ISIS-Khorasan group. He noted that the threat of terrorism from this group can spread far beyond Afghanistan and therefore it is necessary to actively cooperate in this direction.

The special representative also drew attention to the fact that meeting the demands of the international community was key to the recognition of the current Afghan authorities. He expressed his hope for a constructive approach by the current Afghan Government to the expectations of the international community, including the formation of a broad-based Government. Ismatullah Irgashev stressed the importance of supporting education and employment for Afghan women and girls, respecting their religious beliefs.

Finally, Irgashev mentioned the importance of resolving water problems taking into account the interests of all parties and noted the active interaction between the Surkhandarya Region of Uzbekistan and the border province of Afghanistan, which contributes to the development of friendly relations and trade. ‘Effective cooperation is possible only with active actions aimed at restoring the Afghan economy and developing the country,’ the Uzbek representative summarized his speech.

Sharaf Rahimi, head of the Strategic Research Department of the Tajik Foreign Ministry, describes the complex situation in Afghanistan in his speech and emphasizes the importance of resolving this situation as soon as possible to ensure security and stability in Central Asia. ‘To achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan, it is necessary to establish a truly inclusive government that includes representatives of all ethno-political groups,’ the speaker said. He also drew attention to violations of human rights, including the rights of social groups, women and children, and highlighted the discontent in Afghan society. Rahimi also expressed concern about the increased activity of terrorist and extremist organizations in Afghanistan and pointed to their ability to adapt to new realities and use various forms and methods to carry out terrorist acts. ‘This poses a threat not only to Afghanistan but also to neighboring countries, including Tajikistan,’ the Tajik representative noted. Rahimi also stressed the presence of a large number of light and heavy weapons and military equipment of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and noted the establishment of links between terrorists and drug criminals, which threatens the security of the region.

Sharaf Rahimi continued his speech by pointing out the importance of security, including military-technical and socio-economic security, in light of the deteriorating economic situation in Afghanistan. ‘The majority of Afghanistan’s population is below the poverty line and faces unemployment and hunger. Tajikistan is providing its border infrastructure and logistical capabilities to deliver humanitarian aid and has reopened border markets with Afghanistan,’ Sharaf Rahimi said.

Rahimi emphasized Tajikistan’s readiness to cooperate and support Afghanistan in its efforts to rebuild and strengthen security, and called on other countries in the region to do the same in the interests of shared stability and well-being.

Taalatbek Masadykov, regional security and international relations scholar in Kyrgyzstan, addressed the participants and stressed the importance of the Moscow Format of consultations on Afghan issues against the backdrop of the changing world order. He emphasized that Afghanistan plays a key role in regional relations between South and Central Asia and that the long-standing conflict in Afghanistan has seriously disrupted stability and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. Masadykov expressed concern about the economic crisis and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, emphasizing the need for financial and economic support from the international community. He also noted Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and support to the Afghan people. The expert expressed support for the implementation of regional projects, including the KASA-1000 project, which could link the energy systems of Central Asia and South Asia through Afghanistan. Taalatbek Masadykov drew attention to the importance of developing transit and transport infrastructure in the region and delivery of goods to Afghanistan through the multimodal transport corridor created jointly with China, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Masadykov expressed support for the aspiration of the Afghan Interim Government to fulfill its obligations to the international community. He stressed Kyrgyzstan’s interest in a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, readiness to develop good neighborly relations and called for practical steps on the part of the Afghan authorities to ensure regional security, and supported the idea of resuming the work of the SCO contact group on Afghanistan.

Masadykov expressed concern about women’s education and employment and cited a proverb, ‘If you want to educate a man, educate a son, and if you want to educate a nation, educate a daughter’.

Talgat Kaliyev, ambassador at large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, was the next one to address the meeting. He expressed his assessment of events in Afghanistan, which occurred two years after the new administration came to power in the country. Kaliyev noted that the Afghan administration is firmly in power, and the economy, despite some difficulties, is at an acceptable level. He also drew attention to the problems faced by women in Afghanistan, such as restrictions on education and employment, and stressed that these problems remain the main obstacle to international recognition of the Taliban as the country’s legitimate government. The ambassador expressed concern about regional security, including the presence of terrorist groups and drug trafficking in the region. He supported initiatives to develop trade cooperation with Afghanistan, including a Kazakh-Afghan business forum and the construction of a trans-Afghan railway corridor. Kaliyev also supported the idea of establishing a regional centre in Almaty under UN auspices to coordinate projects in the region and ensure effective communication between countries and UN offices. He called for continued humanitarian aid to the Afghan people and the training of Afghan students, including girls, in Kazakhstan’s universities.

At the meeting, Consul General of Turkmenistan in Kazan Guich Garayev stressed the importance of relations between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan based on the principles of friendship, good neighborliness and historical ties between these countries. He expressed Turkmenistan’s interest in integration, economic ties and well-being in the region, which contributes to security and stability both in the country itself and in the region as a whole. Garayev called for maintaining dialogue with the new Afghan authorities and noted, ‘Turkmenistan has reaffirmed its readiness to promote peace and harmony in Afghanistan, as well as to support the country’s economic recovery through cooperation and joint projects, including energy and transport.’ Garayev also mentioned a number of projects that Turkmenistan is implementing in Afghanistan, such as gas pipelines and power lines, as well as the construction of railways, ‘The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power transmission and fibre-optic communication line, the Lazurit transport corridor, the construction of railways in the Afghan direction, the gas pipeline - all these are important energy projects on the Eurasian continent. Their main goal is to create new additional conditions for energy cooperation between the major regions of Central and South Asia.’

The representatives of the delegations from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Türkiye expressed their gratitude to Head of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov for the warm welcome in Kazan and stressed the importance of joint efforts and cooperation to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan. They noted the role of international cooperation in foreign policy and the need to support Afghanistan’s economy through joint projects and cooperation.

At the end of the meeting, all participants in the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan, except Tajikistan, endorsed the outcome declaration.



GSV "Russia - Islamic World"