Interview with Zamir Kabulov, Director of the Second Asian Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, for RIA Novosti
Mr Kabulov, while serving as Russia’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, you often said that Russia was willing to advise the United States and NATO on avoiding mistakes the Soviet Union had made in that country, but our Western counterparts were not willing to listen. What are the mistakes the NATO countries are repeating? Has the situation changed at all, with Russia being listened to?
I did say during those years that many would not listen, even though they heard us. I also said it was a mistake to increase the number of foreign troops in the region. The Soviet experience has shown that it only leads to growing casualties among soldiers and officers. This year’s figures only confirm this sad logic. Over 400 servicemen from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been killed since the beginning of this year, while 521 died in the entire 2009.
The Soviet experience in Afghanistan also makes us question the prospects for the U.S. initiative to form armed units of local people. These units are nearly always poorly trained and lack discipline. They are often inclined to desertion and to selling their arms to extremists. In addition, creating additional armed units in the country is fraught with the aggravation of ethnic, tribal and clan conflicts. I believe it would be more advisable to spend the available funds on reinforcing the country’s army and police by improving their combat preparedness and loyalty to the central government.
We never stop calling on our Western partners to expand cooperation on Afghanistan and standing up to threats posed by that country, primarily terrorism, drug production and drug trafficking. We believe we could achieve tangible success through NATO cooperation with the regionally based SCO and CSTO. We are using the NATO-Russia Council as a platform for discussion; we have had certain success there, such as an agreement on a simplified freight transit procedure across Russia for an ISAF supply chain to Afghanistan. The NATO-Russia Council’s project to train personnel for Afghan anti-drug agencies (the Russian Interior Ministry training center in Domodedovo being used as one of the sites) became permanent from April 2008.
What do you think of the outcome of the International Conference on Afghanistan held in Kabul on July 20?
First of all, that this high-profile event was held in Kabul is an important sign in itself. It was especially important for the Afghans who could see proof that the Afghan government’s efforts to stabilize the country and support economic development enjoyed the all-out support of the international community. The major outcome of the conference was the start-up of the so-called Kabul Process of transition to full Afghan leadership of and responsibility for the country’s security, and social and economic revival.
The conference recognized the growing role of the SCO and the CSTO in regional cooperation to fight terrorist and drug threats. The resulting document referred to these two regional groups as partners.
If we try to combine realism and idealism, and take it for granted that the West, Russia and the regional countries are ready to show a certain amount of goodwill and coordinate their efforts, what progress do you think can be effectively made in Afghanistan, and how soon?
I do not think that a realistic and idealistic approaches could be combined at all, and certainly not when discussing Afghan problems. Being realistic – there are more questions than answers at this stage. The situation in the country has not changed dramatically in the past few years. In addition to the instability, the social-and economic welfare of the country’s residents is a big and painful issue. Unfortunately, the amounts of money announced as donations to Afghanistan are dramatically different from those reaching the recipients – that is, ordinary people in Afghanistan. You must agree that this is far from an ideal situation. And it’s certainly too soon to discuss expected progress or timeframes at this point.