Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Afghanistan’s Approach to Russian Diplomacy: Keep It in the Family

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan ambassador to Russia is known for his undiplomatic talk and his signature aviator glasses. He has insulted a close ally of his host country. His second passport is an American one.

Qayyum Kochai, 76, may seem miscast as a young nation’s chief envoy to Russia, a country whose long, tricky relationship with Afghanistan is seen as critical to its future.

But Mr. Kochai is also an uncle of President Ashraf Ghani, and in Afghanistan, the most important diplomacy is often kept in the family.

Mr. Kochai’s history of leaving a trail of contentious remarks in his wake worries some. In an interview, however, he said he had not asked for the job, but was persuaded to take it because of his qualifications.

There was “a national need” for an experienced diplomat who speaks Russian and has followed the country, which he has since his student days and his time as a junior diplomat there in the late 1960s, he said.

In Moscow, Mr. Kochai will be managing a delicate relationship with a country that could tip the scale of the long war in Afghanistan in either direction, and, according to Afghan and American officials, has contributed recently to growing instability. They say that Russia is lending legitimacy to the Taliban insurgents by openly acknowledging contacts with them at a time when violence has escalated. At the same time, Russia has been cold to the Kabul government, apparently seeing Mr. Ghani as being too close to the United States at Russia’s expense.

Russian officials justify their contacts with the Taliban because they say the militants are fighting the Islamic State, which Russia fears particularly because it includes Central Asian elements that may threaten Russian territory. The United States commander in Afghanistan, however, in recent testimony to the Senate, said that the Russians were trying to undermine NATO’s mission in the country, and that it was the Afghan government that was fighting Islamic State, not the Taliban.

Historically, Russia has been an important player in Afghanistan, from the Great Game between Russia and Britain in the 19th century to the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan in support of its communist allies in Kabul.

Omar Nessar, the director of the Moscow-based Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies, said Russia had cooperated with the United States’ mission in Afghanistan for much of the past 15 years because it saw Al Qaeda as a shared threat. But the recent change of policy — to not only stop cooperating with the United States in Afghanistan, but also start working with the enemy — was as much shaped by events in Syria and Crimea, both places where the United States has challenged Russian interests.

“The government of Russia does not have faith in the government of Afghanistan, they think the Afghan government is a puppet of the Americans, which is baseless,” Mr. Kochai said. “I have talked to them a lot, that that perception of theirs is wrong. Afghanistan is an independent country — the U.S. has helped us a lot, militarily and economically, they haven’t destroyed our country, they haven’t invaded our country.” 

“My belief is that just as the Taliban are being used by Pakistan and have no free will of their own, tomorrow they will be used by the Russians,” Mr. Kochai said. - Read More, nytimes

Afghanistan's Approach to Russian Diplomacy: Keep It in the Family ...


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