Afghanistan considers Russia to be not only a close neighbor, but also an important political and economic partner, and is interested in attracting Russian business, Hamid Karzai said during his first official visit to Moscow.
“In particular, Afghanistan is interested in Russia investing into infrastructure projects,” Hamid Karzai said.
Karzai has met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to talk about strengthening relations between the two countries, brainstorm about effective solutions to mutual threats, and expand common interests. Economic relations and the war against drugs were on top of their talks' agenda.
Karzai said Russia has an “important role as Afghanistan’s partner in fighting drug trafficking and terrorism.”
“The current phase of relations is especially important because it began in 2001 in spite of the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan,” Karzai said. “Since then, there has been a steady strengthening and improvement in our relations primarily because Russia understood the need for Afghanistan’s stability, the need for Afghanistan’s progress into a self-reliant country and government.”
Moscow is trying to be more involved in tackling this problem. Annually, 350,000 people die in Russia from Afghan heroin. Russia has recently been participating in many international conferences on the Afghan drug problem.
“Kabul highly appreciates Russia’s constructive stance on involving Afghanistan in international organizations’ activities as a fully-fledged member,” Karzai added.
President Medvedev has even said that he would like to see Afghanistan as a guest member of the Shanghai Organization for Cooperation that also discusses the drug issue widely. President Karzai stressed that Afghanistan cannot tackle this problem without help from the international community.
The presidents have adopted a joint statement on their countries’ stance on key bilateral issues and their priorities for developing relations. They have also signed an agreement on trade and economic cooperation.
“This agreement sees the creation of a very important mechanism for trade relations between our two countries. Namely – an inter-governmental commission that will strengthen cooperation between Russia and Afghanistan. Over the past few years our trade turnover has increased more than fourfold, and is now half a billion US dollars,” President Medvedev said.
Military cooperation has also been in the spotlight. Russia and the US have agreed for US Army cargo to be transited through Russian territory which significantly eases the process of delivering military equipment to Afghanistan.
“Russia would like to see Afghanistan as an independent and prosperous state, with an effective government that is able to provide the development of Afghanistan for decades to come,” President Medvedev said. “At the same time, we realize the country is going through a difficult period right now. International forces are there to help restore order, crush extremism and crime, including drug crime. Russia is also playing its role. We help transit cargo to Afghanistan, and will continue to honour our obligations to support Afghanistan in this important matter.”
The presidents also discussed energy security. Medvedev said that Russia is willing to build several hydro-electric power plants in Afghanistan. Russia is trying to help Afghanistan more and more every year, including reconstructing infrastructure built by the Soviet Union.
Russia is trying to do its best to help Afghanistan prepare for the withdrawal of US troops from the country in 2014 when Kabul will have to take care of its own security. In order to do that, Russia is willing to help train military officers. And last year Russia donated 20,000 Kalashnikovs and sold 80 Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan.
President Karzai has also said that he would like to rely on help from Russia in one way or another, even after the withdrawal of US troops from the country.
The Afghan president has invited Dmitry Medvedev to visit Afghanistan.
“It will be an honor to welcome you in Afghanistan,” he told the Russian president.
Member of the Afghan Parliament, Daoud Sultanzoy, says the drug problem in Afghanistan should be remedied, not fought.
“Drugs is not an Afghan problem, it’s a global problem. I think Russia should play a better role in stemming the [drug] transit and the transport of chemicals into Afghanistan, and also participate in poverty reduction in Afghanistan and try to help us with agricultural alternatives so that we can eliminate the basic reasons for drug cultivation in Afghanistan,” he said. “This should not be dealt with as a war. We should remedy the problem, not fight it. Fighting is not going to help. We should reduce poverty, we should produce more alternatives in terms of agriculture, in terms of job creation, and Russia can help us in all these arenas.”
Remedying the problem first and foremost on its home turf, in Afghanistan, is what anti-drug expert Igor Khokhlov says is the only effective way to tackle drug trafficking.
“The Russian police force is maybe the most effective one in the world at fighting drug abuse. But the problem is, the more effective Russian police become, the higher is the price of heroin in Russia, because it is more difficult to buy it, so it makes the business more profitable” Khokhlov said. “So the only way to crush drug trafficking, the only way to stop the flow of drugs coming into Russia is to fight the problem at its source, in Afghanistan.”
Armen Oganesyan, editor-in-chief of International Affairs magazine, said the aim of the summit was to increase Russia’s investment in Afghanistan’s stability.
“I think that Russia and Afghanistan are interested in upgrading stability in every sense of the word: economics, fighting drug trafficking, infrastructural support in agriculture and [other] industries,” Oganesyan said.