ISLAMABAD — Russia has warned Islamic State is turning northern Afghanistan into a “resting base” of international terrorism and a “bridgehead” for establishing its “destructive” caliphate in the region. The “international wing of Daesh” is spearheading the effort of terrorists spilling over the borders of Syria and Iraq and moving worldwide, asserted Russian ambassador to Pakistan, Alexey Dedov.
Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS. “With clear connivance, and sometimes even with direct support of certain local and outside sponsors, thousands of militants of various nationalities are consolidating under the banners of Daesh there (in northern Afghanistan), including jihadis from Syria and Iraq,” Dedov told a seminar in Islamabad. He did not elaborate but Russia and Iran accuse the United States of supporting Islamic State’s rise in Afghanistan.
Iran’s top military commander earlier this week also alleged that the U.S. is transferring IS militants to Afghanistan to fuel regional instability and justify its presence in the region. Washington vehemently rejects the charges as “rumors” and says its sustained operations in partnership with Afghan forces against IS bases in the country have significantly degraded and reduced the terrorists. The U.S. military maintains its recent airstrikes in northern Afghan regions are targeting Taliban training camps and those of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a terrorist organization operating near the border with China and Tajikistan.
“The U.S. strikes support Afghanistan in reassuring its neighbors that it is not a safe sanctuary for terrorists who want to carry out cross border operations,” the military said Thursday. Russia has lately also increased contacts with Taliban insurgents in a bid to contain spread of IS, particularly to Afghan provinces, which border Central Asian states. Kabul and Washington denounce Moscow for its overt ties with the Taliban, saying they are detrimental to U.S.-led international efforts to fight terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan. Russia defends its ties with insurgents, saying they are meant only to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and rejects allegations of arming the Taliban.
Ambassador Dedov said his country seeks increased security cooperation with Afghan and Pakistani authorities to suppress the “proliferation” of IS-led terrorism before it threatens the security of Moscow-allied Central Asian states. He noted the recent sale of Mi-35M combat helicopters to Pakistan and other military deals are part of Russia’s efforts to boost regional efforts against terrorism. The two countries, added the Russian diplomat, conducted joint anti-terrorism military and naval drills in 2016 and 2017, and the process will continue this year. “This (cooperation) is being developed dynamically and we are very satisfied with these dynamics,” Dedov said.
Islamabad has come under increased U.S. pressure over alleged Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan that Washington says have enabled insurgents to prolong and expand the Afghan conflict. President Donald Trump has recently suspended military aid to Pakistan until it takes “decisive action” against the militants. The move has dealt a major blow to Islamabad’s already fragile relationship with Washington and tensions continue to escalate with the rise in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials deny they harbor or support insurgents, insisting the country is being scapegoated for U.S. military “failures” in the neighboring country. Speaking at the seminar, Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman, General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, took a swipe at Trump’s punitive actions against his country and boasted at the same time expanding military and economic ties with Russia and China.
These two relationships, however, “are not at the expense of, or in opposition to a third party,” the general explained without naming the U.S. Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally of the U.S, though calls are growing in American political circles for degrading the status. “While some powers weaken diplomatic and military support to Islamabad, Beijing and Moscow continue to support Pakistan in the diplomatic sphere…Pakistan appreciates Russian and Chinese diplomatic efforts to defend Pakistan’s legitimate security and sovereignty concerns,” Hayat said.
The top Pakistani general praised as “a significant development” Russia’s “stabilizing” role in Afghanistan and its push for warring sides to find a negotiated settlement. “We welcome Russia’s influence in Afghanistan to weaken Daesh foothold. Pakistan also supports Russian outreach to various segments of the afghan society for wider benefits of peace and stability,” Hayat said. The general went on to criticize increased U.S. military actions in Afghanistan in a bid to break the stalemate with the Taliban. He emphasized the need for starting an intra-Afghan reconciliation process, involving the Taliban, to end the violence.
“Unfortunately, preference for the kinetic approach over political settlement has further compounded the already existing complexity in Afghanistan,” warned Hayat. The general was apparently referring to President Donald Trump’s recent remarks in which he ruled out peace talks with the Taliban and instead vowed to escalate military pressure on the insurgents to “finish” them. China, Pakistan’s biggest regional ally, has recently initiated a trilateral ministerial level dialogue involving Islamabad and Kabul to ease tensions in their bilateral ties and promote Afghan peace.
“China’s increasing active role to bring peace in Afghanistan has our full support. The trilateral mechanism between China, Afghanistan and Pakistan has positive prospects for success,” said General Hayat. Beijing is investing billions of dollars in Pakistan to help build a massive economic corridor linking the two countries as part of China’s global Belt and Road Initiative.