Russia exchanging information with Taliban on fighting IS
Russia is exchanging information with the Taliban and sees shared interest with the insurgents when it comes to counteracting the spread of the Islamic State group, a senior Russian diplomat said Wednesday.
"Taliban interests objectively coincide with ours," Zamir Kabulov, head of the department at the Russian foreign ministry responsible for Afghanistan who is also a Kremlin special representative in the country, told Interfax news agency.
"I have said before that we have communication channels with the Taliban to exchange information," he said.
"Both the Taliban of Afghanistan and the Taliban of Pakistan have said that they don't recognise (IS leader Abu Bakr) Al-Baghdadi as a caliph, that they don't recognise ISIL," he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
"That is very important," added Kabulov, an Afghanistan expert who held negotiations with Taliban leader Mullah Omar in the mid-1990s, when the group seized a Russian transport plane and held seven Russians hostage for a year in the Kandahar airport.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed Kabulov's remarks were reported correctly.
"It has to do with fighting the Islamic State group," she said.
Russia considers the Taliban a terrorist group and it is banned in the country, along with the Islamic State group.
The fundamentalist Islamic movement is regularly flagged by officials as a threat, particularly since Taliban-controlled areas in Afghanistan border ex-Soviet Tajikistan, Moscow's impoverished central Asian ally.
Moscow has been ramping up military presence in Tajikistan, most recently reinforcing its base near Dushanbe with helicopters in October.
Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday met with Tajik counterpart Sherali Mirzo and said Islamic State presence in Afghanistan constitutes yet another threat.
There are grounds for us to say that ISIL groups have appeared there, and we have additional challenges added to everything that has been there (already)," Shoigu said.
Following the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai, President Putin pledged to ramp up Moscow's war on IS in response to the attack.
The CIA estimates that IS has 20,000 to 30,000 fighters spread between Syria and Iraq. Its skilful use of social media lures young recruits from around the world to the territory where the group says it's building its "caliphate," or state ruled by a supreme religious leader.
IS makes millions from selling oil, ransoming hostages and collecting taxes in the territory it controls.
In the year since the international drawdown in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency has intensified. Although the combat mission ended last year, around 9,800 US troops and almost 4,000 NATO forces remain in Afghanistan.