Afghanistan's interim defense minister, General Mohammad Fahim, held talks yesterday in Moscow with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Speaking today at a joint press conference with Ivanov, Fahim said Russia has agreed to give the Afghan army technical support to repair its current weapons arsenal, but will not supply any new arms.
Moscow, 12 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russia will give the Afghan army technical and logistic support but no new arms, Afghan interim Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim said in Moscow today at a joint press conference with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
"In our talks with the defense minister of the Russian Federation and other officials in the ministry, we were able to get a positive reply to our request: the Russian Federation will help us in the logistic and technical fields," Fahim said.
Fahim, who held talks with Ivanov yesterday, said Afghanistan is well supplied with weapons and in no need of new equipment. But he said it does need to repair the Russian-made weapons already in its arsenal from the years when Russia was supporting the Northern Alliance's fight against the Taliban.
"We should take into account the fact that the military-technical system of the Afghan army is based on the Russian system. [I mean] the arms that we have in Afghanistan were built in Russia or in the [former] Soviet Union," Fahim said. "After the Taliban regime was defeated, we were able to take large number of weapons they had. And the [former] Afghanistan government really had a lot of weapons. For that reason, I'd like to point out that we don't need new military equipment. We'd like now to have logistic cooperation and technical help from Russia."
For his part, Ivanov confirmed that the two sides agreed only on matters of organizational assistance and technical support:
"Now we are not talking so much about [supplying] weapons -- Afghanistan in 20 years of war has accumulated plenty of them," Ivanov said. "But first of all, [we are talking about giving Afghanistan] organizational [assistance], logistical support and help with spare parts. This is the way in which we intend to cooperate [with Afghanistan]."
Fahim said combat operations are still going on in Afghanistan like the recent battle in the southeastern city of Gardez between rival Pashtun factions. He said the interim government's main task now is to centralize power and establish working relations with the country's provinces. To do this, he said, it is of primary importance to create a national army.
Ivanov said Russia is interested in helping Afghanistan repair its security infrastructure. He said a sound security system will help defeat the terrorist attachments that threaten Central Asia and stop the production of narcotics -- a goal of mutual interest to Afghanistan and Russia.
But Ivanov stopped short of giving details regarding the financial conditions of Russia's military cooperation with Afghanistan: "As far as the commercial conditions of buying certain goods are concerned, always all over the world it is [regarded as] a commercial secret. This is not a Russian whim, but in the civilized world everybody acts in this way. I'd like to stress 'in the civilized [world],'"
Ruslan Pukhov is the director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), an NGO specializing in arms sales and the defense industry. Pukhov said Russia is unlikely to supply Afghanistan with spare parts for free.
"It is improbable that Russia will furnish [Afghanistan with spare parts] for free. For that reason [I think] they will agree that a third party -- for example the United States or Britain or some other country -- will pay for it," Pukhov said.
Pukhov said in order to exercise true authority in the country, the Afghan interim leadership needs spare parts to repair field weapons, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters.
Ivanov praised Fahim's decision to buy replacement parts rather than new weapons, saying such a move was "10 times cheaper."
The former Soviet Union equipped the Afghan army in the early 1970s. More recently, as a sponsor of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance Moscow in 2001 supplied the Afghan opposition with some $30-$40 million worth of mostly Soviet-era weapons.
Ivanov denied the possibility of Russian military experts being sent to Afghanistan to train the Afghan army. Ivanov said Fahim's military commanders have some 20 years of fighting experience and would not benefit from additional training from the Russians.
Britain has offered to help Fahim in training a national army. The United States has also indicated it will participate in future training projects.
Yesterday, Fahim met with Russian Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu and officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry. Shoigu told Interfax news agency that Russia will work together with Tajikistan to build a new electricity system in the northern part of Afghanistan. He also said Russia will carry out a demining project in the war-torn country.
During the course of his seven-day visit, Fahim will also have meetings with leading exporters of Russian weapons and military hardware.