Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Is Russia Making Moves On Afghanistan?


Russia captured the world's attention when its military intervened in Syria. Some officials in Iraq have suggested they might accept Russian help. And this has left some people in Afghanistan wondering, is Russia once again eyeing their country? NPR's Philip Reeves has the story.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's not easy to raise a laugh in Afghanistan. The makers of this populist satirical TV show, "Boiling Point," are willing to try.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: They've sent an actor disguised as a Russian into the Afghan countryside. Concealed beneath shades and a big leather hat, the fake Russian tries to sell guns to the locals.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).


REEVES: The silly accents and even sillier clothes make it clear this is comedy. Though, it's also meant to discourage Afghans from buying illegal weapons. Yet, this show has an extra edge to it because right now Russia's interest in Afghanistan is a hot topic here.

HAROUN MIR: When, in the morning, people woke up and they saw Taliban in the streets of Kunduz, a lot of people were upset with it.

REEVES: Political analyst Haroun Mir says the Taliban's brief takeover of the city of Kunduz last month reinforced people's view that after 14 years, the U.S. is losing the fight against Islamist militancy. Some Afghans are looking at the Russian president Vladimir Putin's ferocious bombing in Syria and wondering whether he can do that here, says Mir.

MIR: Some political leaders and some people in general, they are thinking that if Russians intervene they might change things as they're doing with Syria. But these are still a minority.

REEVES: Speculation that Russia's seeking greater involvement has been fed by recent visits to Moscow by senior Afghan officials. Putin's certainly making no secret of his concern about Afghanistan. He describes it as in close to critical condition. Afghanistan's once peaceful north is in conflict. The so-called Islamic State is growing. Putin's worried this will spread across the Afghan border into former Soviet republics in Central Asia and Russia itself. The question is what'll he do?

SALEH MOHAMMAD: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Saleh Mohammad spent four years fighting Russians during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Millions of Afghans were killed, maimed or displaced during that time. Mohammad lost a leg and an eye to landmines. He views any sign of greater Russian involvement in the neighborhood as bad news.

MOHAMMAD: (Through interpreter) If someone blows your leg off, how can you forgive them? I suffer every second of the day.

REEVES: And no one in Afghanistan even remotely expects Russia to repeat the errors of the '80s. Haroun Mir again.

MIR: Russians are not interested in any kind of intervention in Afghanistan. But they have a commitment for central Asian republics.

REEVES: Don't forget, says Mir, Russia's actually helped the international mission in Afghanistan over the years with weapons, helicopters and access to a supply route. He says there's no reason NATO and Russia can't continue making common cause in the fight against the Islamists.

MIR: Russia, if wants to engage in Afghanistan in the context and framework of international presence in Afghanistan, they will be always welcome.

JAFAR MAHDAVI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Afghan politician Jafar Mahdavi worries it won't happen that way.

MAHDAVI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: He's concerned the battle against the Islamic State may morph into a proxy war with the U.S. Maybe another factor's in play. A few days ago, President Putin met his Central Asian neighbors to discuss a joint border task force to keep the Islamists from infiltrating. Some Western analysts suspect Putin's real motive may be to use the conflict in Afghanistan as another opportunity to expand into Russia's old haunts on the fringes of the former Soviet empire. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.