Taliban Is 'Closely Monitoring' Unrest in Kazakhstan After Russia-led Intervention

The Taliban-led government in Afghanistan has said it was carefully following the events of an explosive situation amid protests and riots in Kazakhstan that have prompted an intervention from Russia and its allies.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Fazilrabi Zahin published a statement Thursday saying the administration is "closely monitoring the situation in Kazakhstan and, as a close neighbor and economic partner state, is concerned about the recent unrest."

The ministry also "urges both the government and protestors to resolve issues through talks and peaceful means, and to return calm and stability to the country."

The statement was shared on Twitter by spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi, who added that "the Islamic Emirate considers security & political stability in the region essential for economic growth, trade & prosperity of peoples."

High-profile Taliban member Al-Hanafi Wardak called the issue "an internal matter of Kazakhstan" and echoed the Foreign Ministry's message.

"The Islamic Emirate hopes for stability and security in the region," Wardak told Newsweek. "And it is concerned about the recent unrest in Kazakhstan, first because it is not in Kazakhstan's favor and then it also hinders the security, development, economic growth and trade activities of the region."

Months after Afghanistan's own decades-long civil war ended in August with a U.S. military withdrawal and Taliban takeover, mass protests have erupted with deadly violence in nearby Kazakhstan. The demonstrations were prompted over the weekend by a sudden hike in fuel prices and have led to the resignation of the government as well as attacks on state institutions and clashes between security forces and protesters, leaving casualties on both sides.

The situation compelled President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to declare a nationwide state of emergency and appeal assistance from allies. This appeal was heard by the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a six-member bloc led by Russia that has agreed to send a joint peacekeeping force to quell unrest in the Central Asian state.

Wardak said he saw diplomacy as the most important asset that countries in the region could offer Kazakhstan at the moment.

"In my opinion, before foreign intervention, the Kazakhstan government and the protesters must end the ongoing unrest through dialogue. External interference will further complicate the situation," Wardak said. "It is hoped that other countries will also support internal dialogue to end this unrest."

He said Russia and other regional countries should play a role in calming the situation by supporting talks among domestic forces within Kazakhstan.

"We hope that countries in the region will urge the Kazakhstan government and protesters to use dialogue instead of violence," Wardak said. "Now is the time for all countries in the region, including Russia, to support and assist in the internal dialogue to end the ongoing unrest in Kazakhstan."

Kazakhstan, protests, energy, prices, Almaty
A frame grab from an AFPTV video made on January 5 shows protesters storming in the city hall of Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty as unprecedented unrest in the Central Asian nation spins out of control due to a hike in energy prices. Protestors took from police officers gear and tear gas during a demonstration in the streets of Almaty that caused the death of 12 security officers and wounded 353 people, media reports said on January 6. ALEXANDER PLATONOV/AFPTV/Getty Images

One Taliban official expressed similar hopes and concerns, noting that "the primary concern" for Islamic Emirate "is the political and economical destabilization of the region, security and peace in the region, specifically in Central Asia, which is one of importance for Afghanistan and we think if shuffled will directly affect our country.

"We have friendly relations with Kazakhstan through which we have vast trade up to one billion dollars between two countries annually, so all this matters for us," the Taliban official told Newsweek. "Regarding the Russian and allies' intervention I think every foreign engagement in the internal matters of a country will not have positive consequences but more on this its an internal matter of Kazakhstan, they are in the better position to decide how to control the situation and get out of this chaos."

While the Taliban remains sensitive to foreign military activity in the region due to its own country's history of struggle against both Soviet and U.S. interventions, the group has sought to assert itself as a responsible, stable international player as it seeks global recognition. Part of this effort includes diplomatic outreach to major powers as well as Central Asian states like Kazakhstan, which has answered the Taliban's calls for international assistance.

Late last month, Islamic Emirate Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi hosted a delegation from Nur-Sultan led by Kazakh Trade Minister Bakhyt Sultanov.

The top Taliban diplomat thanked Kazakhstan for "its humanitarian aid & its support to Afghanistan in international stages" at the time and "also assured the Kazakh trade delegation of Afghanistan's ability to connect Kazakhstan to South Asia backed by firm security following the recent changes," according to his ministry.

Sultanov was cited as having "said economic rehabilitation of Afghanistan was of significance to them & they sought not only to export their products to Afghanistan but also their exports to reach markets of other countries through Afghanistan." The Kazakh trade envoy also emphasized connectivity to South Asia and an intention to boost Kazakh economic ties to Afghanistan, saying that "the Kazakh government was ready to facilitate banking ties with Afghanistan, resume flights, and continue to provide scholarships to Afghan students in various fields."

"To end, the two sides pledged to expand political and economic relations between the two countries," the Islamic Emirate Foreign Ministry said in its Christmas Day statement.

Sultanov has since left his post alongside other cabinet members amid the current crisis there. Tokayev even sacked former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country for nearly three decades since independence until stepping down in 2019 and assuming the new role of Security Council chief, a position now occupied by Tokayev himself.

But as protests swelled and consumed the largest city of Almaty, even targeting Tokayev's own residence, the Kazakh president decried on what he called Wednesday "terrorist gangs" that had "received extensive training abroad." Hours after announcing he had called on the CSTO for help, the request was granted and, as of Thursday, forces began pouring in from a coalition that also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The deployment coincided with what Kazakh officials referred to as an "anti-terror operation" to quell the uprising.

Images published separately by the Russian Defense Ministry and Belarusian Defense Ministry showed troops departing their respective nations for deployment to Afghanistan as part of the CSTO's Peacekeeping Force, which numbers around 3,600 personnel consisting of military, police and civilians.

Russia has also been joined by fellow leading powers China and the U.S. in calling for calm in Kazakhstan.

Taliban, fighters, Bukhashi, Mazar-i-Sharif
Taliban fighters sit along with people as they watch Buzkashi, a Central Asian sport also enjoyed in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in which horse-mounted players attempt to place a decapitated animal carcass in a goal, in Mazar-i-Sharif on December 24, 2021. Afghanistan has deep cultural ties across Central Asia and the ruling Taliban has joined other nations in expressing concerns that unrest in Kazakhstan could reverberate across the region. MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

In a phone call with her Kazakh counterpart Maulen Ashimbayev on Thursday, the speaker of Russia's higher chamber of parliament Valentina Matvienko "expressed words of empathy and support" and also warned that lasting instability posed a threat to neighboring states.

"Regarding the riots that broke out in the Republic of Kazakhstan, Valentina Matvienko voices concerns over the scale of illegal actions of armed extremists that pose a threat not only to the integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the lives of its citizens, but also to the security of neighboring states," she said, according to the Russian Federation Council.

In a statement shared with Newsweek, the Russian Foreign Ministry cited Article 4 mutual defense clause of the CSTO in validating the decision to contribute to the peacekeeping units being sent to Kazakhstan.

"Reaffirming its commitment to allied obligations within the CSTO, the Russian Federation supported the adoption of urgent measures amidst the rapidly deteriorating internal political situation and surge of violence in Kazakhstan," the ministry said. "We view the recent developments in this friendly country as externally provoked attempts at disrupting the security and integrity of the state through violent means, including trained and organised armed groups."

Moscow has also expressed an openness to pursuing further measures in conjunction with allies of the CSTO, which also fields Collective Rapid Reaction Forces and Collective Rapid Deployment Forces

"The Russian Federation will continue its close consultations with Kazakhstan and other allies in the CSTO to analyse and develop, if necessary, further effective measures, primarily for assisting the counter-terrorist operation by Kazakhstan's law enforcement agencies, ensuring the safety of all civilians in the country without exception, and securing all critical infrastructure facilities and their operations and bringing them back under the control of the Kazakh authorities," the ministry said. "We seek the rapid restoration of normal life in the Republic."