Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Moscow for a two-day official visit that underscores the Kremlin’s growing political role in Afghanistan. The visit, which began January 20, also coincides with a deepening constitutional crisis inside Afghanistan, stemming from a dispute concerning the legitimacy of parliamentary elections in 2010. While drugs and terrorism top Russia’s agenda for Karzai’s visit, Russian Ambassador Andrey Avetisyan tells EurasiaNet.org in Kabul that Moscow would also like to benefit from a share in the defense pie as a commercial supplier.
EurasiaNet: Can you frame for us your concerns about the current situation in Afghanistan?
Avetisyan: We see constant fighting in the north, which worries us a lot. It is almost on our borders because you know we do not have proper borders with the Central Asian republics; they are absolutely open. Two main threats to Russia emanating from Afghanistan are drugs and terrorism. They must be dealt with here, or at least at the northern border of Afghanistan. So we try to encourage a regional approach to the Afghan issue including the Central Asian republics, which, like Russia, are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
The regional approach is something that is badly needed for the Afghan settlement. We know better than anybody how needed and how important peace in the region is, … but national reconciliation is the only way out of this. The international community’s role must be to support them [the Afghan parties to the conflict], not to find solutions for them, not to impose our visions of western democracy.
EurasiaNet: In what way are you prepared to support them?
Avetisyan: In any possible way, except through direct military involvement in Afghanistan. No Russian soldiers will ever [again] be on Afghan soil. Apart from that, everything is possible and we are doing many things already, for example, cooperating against drugs. There are plans for multilateral cooperation in this sphere.
EurasiaNet: Are you happy with the counter-narcotics policy being followed by the United States and NATO?
Avetisyan: With NATO and the United States we only have differences on eradication. … We are in favor of physical eradication like Afghan police do now. We are discussing the possibility of supplying the Afghan side with tractors and other means. We are absolutely not in favor of aerial spraying. We understand that this is a way of living for Afghan peasants. Even if we encourage and support eradication, we must substitute it with something.
We are absolutely certain that terrorism and drugs are inseparable. You fight drugs, you fight terrorism. You cannot fight terrorism without fighting drugs because that’s how they get their money.
EurasiaNet: Is the current military strategy employed by NATO and the Afghan government comprehensive enough?
Avetisyan: This war can’t be won. Everyone understands that now. I think the focus must be on training the Afghan national security forces -- serious training. It is not happening yet. Short-term training is not enough. To train a decent officer takes several years -- three, four or five years. Military academies must be set up here and military officers must be sent abroad for training. We have started with the police. We took 225 police officers to Russia [in 2010] in addition to running special courses for several hundred counter-narcotics police.
Apart from training, the strengthening of the national security forces includes ammunition, weapons, and all things necessary for an army to fight, so we support the approach of President Karzai when he asks allies to provide the army with real fighting capability. We recently supplied the Ministry of Interior with 20,000 AK-47 rifles. We are also discussing the possibility of providing the Afghan army and police with transport helicopters. If the Afghan army or police have other needs, we will consider it.
EurasiaNet: Are you also keen to sell your defense equipment to Afghanistan?
Avetisyan: Yes, of course we are, because we are a big producer, and at some point it will be on a commercial basis. In Lisbon [at a NATO meeting in November], there was an agreement with NATO to set up a trust fund to service and maintain Russian helicopters and to train technicians. We are in discussions on the purchase of Russian equipment [for the Afghan army] with members of the [NATO] coalition.
Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul.