Fearing Afghan Instability, Russia Mulls Border Troops

Friday, 17 May 2013 04:30 AM

 

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Russia, predicting instability once NATO-led troops withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, is considering deploying border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border, Moscow's envoy to Kabul told Reuters in an interview.

Moscow, still sore from its disastrous, decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is increasingly concerned by what it describes as the combined threat of narcotics and terrorism reaching Russia through former Soviet Central Asian countries.

"We prefer to tackle this problem on the Afghan border to stop these threats," Andrey Avetisyan said late on Thursday in the Russian embassy in Kabul.

Its sprawling grounds host a Soviet-built teal Volga car recovered in Afghanistan by embassy staff and a memorial to the 15,000 Soviet lives lost in the war against mujahedeen fighters.

"We used to have a serious presence on the Afghan-Tajik border and, at that time, the situation there was much better, so it would be in the interest of both Russia and Tajikistan and even Afghanistan if Russia is present there," he said.

Avetisyan said such a presence would involve Russian border troops, but declined to give a number.

Russian border guards used to patrol the Tajik frontier with Afghanistan but left in 2005, ending a Soviet-era legacy and handing all power over to local authorities. Ex-Soviet Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan also border Afghanistan to its north.

Avetisyan said any agreement on border troop deployment would "of course" have to be agreed upon with Tajikistan.

Intensifying violence across Afghanistan, less than two years before foreign combat troops withdraw, has sent tremors of worry across Russia, which is battling an Islamist insurgency in its North Caucasus as well as widespread use of heroin and a huge increase in the incidence of HIV and AIDS.

Russia is involved in a series of ambitious construction projects in Afghanistan, including rebuilding its Soviet-era cultural center, aimed at fostering stability in the country which produces 90 percent of the world's opium.

Avetisyan, who also worked for the Soviet government in Kabul during Moscow's war, said fighting in northern Afghanistan — traditional bastions of anti-Taliban power groups — offers proof of a "general destabilization of the situation".

COMPARISONS WITH SOVIET CAMPAIGN

Comparisons are being increasingly drawn between the Soviet and NATO-led wars, and the Taliban have repeatedly warned Washington that it will encounter the same fate met by Moscow.

After the dispirited Soviet exit in 1989, the Afghan communist government collapsed, leading to infighting between warlords and a civil war that reduced much of Kabul to rubble and paved the way for the Taliban's rise to power in 1996.

"What have they been doing for the past 12 years?" Avetisyan asked of the current campaign, America's longest war.

"Fighting against terrorism with 150,000 troops without any success," he said, adding that a continued troop presence after 2014 "doesn't make any sense".

President Barack Obama is expected to soon announce how many combat troops Washington will leave after the withdrawal. Many Afghans are eager to know the size of the post-2014 force, fearing chaos and civil war could erupt with no foreign presence.

The United States is widely expected to retain nine bases across Afghanistan after 2014, NATO officials said after Afghan President Hamid Karzai revealed the plan this month.

But Avetisyan said any future U.S. military role in the country must be an international legal arrangement approved by the U.N. Security Council, in which Russia has veto power.

"A long-term or permanent military presence of a foreign force will be a reason of concern for us, especially if they are military bases. We would like to know what the purpose is and we still don't have answers to these questions," he said.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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