Russia hosts Afghanistan conference as Taliban violence rises in Pakistan

Afghan and Pakistani Taliban fighters have often co-ordinated over decades of instability in the two countries

A Taliban fighter in the Spera district of Khost province in south-west Afghanistan. June 26, 2022. AFP
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Russia's presidential envoy to Afghanistan on Wednesday called for a regional summit on Afghanistan, expressing discontent at the Taliban’s government formation and calling for the militant movement to be more inclusive of minorities.

In language reminiscent of the western-led coalition ― which struggled to build a representative Afghan government ― Zamir Kabulov said the Taliban had not begun the "prompt formation of an ethno-political inclusive government".

"They [the Taliban] continue to insist on the opposite, that their government is inclusive. We can't agree with this," he said.

His remarks come amid a deterioration in the security situation in northern Pakistan, where the Taliban have a local, affiliated group known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). On Wednesday, it was reported that the Pakistani Taliban had killed six police officers in an ambush.

For years, foreign observers have warned that the two Taliban movements could create a continuous zone of instability, endangering security in Pakistan and potentially destabilising the region. Since about 2007, when the TTP formed, Pakistan has fought Taliban insurgents along the rugged, Pashtun-majority border with Afghanistan.

Mr Kabulov called for "key countries of the region to gather and discuss how to proceed", adding that "our question is to provide a true national reconciliation in Afghanistan".

Russia was hosting the meeting on Afghanistan with representatives from China, Turkey, Qatar, as well as countries neighbouring Afghanistan, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan.

The Taliban representatives were not present at talks this year.

Although Moscow has designated the Taliban a terrorist group and outlawed it on Russian soil, the Taliban has representation in Russia and a delegation attended the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

"Our question is to provide a true national reconciliation in Afghanistan, ie, the creation of such a state, in which all the main political groups will be presented, whose voice would be heard."

Pakistan attacks

In Pakistan, the six police officers were killed in an ambush in the north-west of the country on Wednesday, officials said.

The Pakistan Taliban share common lineage with the Afghan Taliban and have staged an increasing number of raids in the year since Kabul fell into the hands of the hardline Islamists.

Gunmen with automatic rifles launched an attack at about 7am on a police vehicle patrolling the village of Shahab Khel, 100km from the Afghan border.

"All the six policemen were killed" under fire from both sides, Tariqullah Khan, a district official in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP.

The Pakistan Taliban said the police were "coming for a raid" when they were ambushed.

It said in a statement to AFP its own fighters "managed to reach their base safely" after looting weapons and ammunition.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif offered his condolences and said on Twitter, "terrorism continues to be one of Pakistan's foremost problems".

The TTP were at the height of their power in Pakistan between 2007 and 2009, when they held sway over the Swat valley just 135km north of Islamabad.

They were pushed into Afghanistan by an army offensive after a barbaric schoolhouse bombing that killed nearly 150 pupils in 2014.

Analysts say the TTP have found a vital foothold and shelter there since the chaotic US departure and the Afghan Taliban takeover in August 2021.

Updated: November 16, 2022, 4:01 PM