MOSCOW: Russia said on Tuesday that the Taliban was prepared for political “compromise”, even as the insurgents launch offensives against government troops to secure greater swathes of Afghanistan while US troops draw down.

The Taliban have capitalised on the withdrawal of foreign troops to capture scores of districts, border crossings, and encircle provincial capitals.

Rounds of inconclusive talks appear to have lost momentum as the militants make battlefield gains.

But the Kremlin’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said during a conference with former Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on Tuesday that the insurgents were prepared to consider political offers put forward by other parties to negotiations.

“Over the past 20 or so years, the bulk of the (Taliban) leadership has certainly become fed up with war and understand that there is a need to search for political solutions to the current deadlock,” Kabulov said.

He added that based on the statements and actions of the insurgent group, it had shown it was “ready for a political compromise”.

“But it’s clear that from their viewpoint a political compromise should be decently presented to them,” Kabulov added.

His comments came after another round of inconclusive talks in Qatar over the weekend between the Afghan government and the Taliban that many hoped would kickstart the ailing peace process. Moscow is closely watching the conflict unfold.

Soviet Union troops occupied Afghanistan in 1979, and the 10-year conflict claimed the lives of more than 14,000 Soviet troops.

In recent years, Russia has sought to reach out to the Taliban and has hosted Taliban representatives in Moscow several times, most recently in July.

Moscow is also watching for a potential spill over of the instability into neighbouring ex-Soviet Central Asian countries where Russia maintains military bases.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Russia is concerned the instability could spur terror threats and proliferate drug trafficking.

Russian tanks deploy near Afghan border

Russian tanks deployed near the Afghan-Tajik border on Tuesday ahead of military exercises next month and Moscow announced more drills in neighbouring Uzbekistan as regional tensions over the Taliban’s territorial gains in Afghanistan remained high.

Taliban fighters have made major advances as US forces pull out after 20 years of war, a security headache for Moscow which fears refugees may be pushed into its Central Asian backyard and its southern defensive flank destabilised.

Tank crews from Russia’s military base in Tajikistan, its largest on foreign soil, completed a 200 km journey to a military range near the Afghan border, the TASS news agency cited Russia’s Central Military District as saying in a statement on Tuesday.

During the deployment, the T-72 tank crews practised protecting convoys and repelling enemy fire, TASS reported.

“Upon arrival at the range, the crews started setting up their positions and providing cover for combat vehicles,” the statement said.

The joint drills, which involve Russian, Tajik and Uzbek forces, are due to take place 20 km from the Afghan border in Tajikistan from Aug 5-10, Russia’s armed forces said on Monday.

On Tuesday, Russia said joint exercises with Uzbek troops in southern Uzbekistan, also near the Afghan border, would run from July 30 to Aug 10, involving around 1,500 troops and 200 vehicles, including aircraft.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2021

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