After the Taliban (banned in the Russian Federation) seized power in Afghanistan, many questions arose about the format and direction of future engagement with the terrorist movement. The tumultuous events in that country, against the background of the urgent withdrawal of US troops and the departure of the bankrupt “civilizers” with their mission, have once again demonstrated the Afghan people’s unwillingness to live under alien laws imposed from outside.
At the same time, the Taliban themselves have repeatedly demonstrated their desire to build a life inside Afghanistan. The Taliban’s main aim is to build a political system based on national values and interests and to create an independent and free Islamic state structure through dialogue, which could hold the country together and protect its territory. The Taliban pledged commitment to a political solution, assured that they would not attack their neighbors and that Afghanistan’s territory would not be used against neighbors or friendly countries.
In this regard, talks can and should be held with the Taliban about the future of Afghanistan and its relations with its neighbors, looking for ways to ensure regional security as well as Russia’s southern borders. And this position is shared by the states bordering Afghanistan, including China, which, in particular in its confrontation with the United States, is seeking an ally for the security of its northern borders.
Russia, like China, is moving closer to a decision to remove the Taliban from the list of terrorist organizations, while pointing out that such a step should be taken first by the UN Security Council, since these decisions have been taken at UN level. Therefore, everything now depends on whether the situation in Afghanistan develops positively.
Russia, like many of Afghanistan’s neighbors, cooperates with Taliban representatives, invites them to Moscow and is in contact with them in Afghanistan itself. Based on successful regional cooperation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a meeting in late March with Amir Khan Muttaqi, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Taliban (a UN-banned organization) formed government of Afghanistan, called on the international community to actively cooperate with the new Afghan authorities, encouraging steps towards its recognition by all UN members.
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have recently been the most active in developing economic ties with Afghanistan, effectively bringing the internationally unrecognized Taliban regime to the forefront of regional politics for gradual international recognition of the de facto Kabul government.
Thus, Uzbekistan has become a very important interlocutor for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), interacting with the Taliban on a wide range of issues without officially recognizing the new government. This allowed Tashkent to explore economic cooperation with Afghanistan without raising objections from the international community, Ariana News reported. In particular, Ismatulla Irgashev, special representative to Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, stated that his government is “working closely” with the IEA, which is seen in Tashkent “as a reality that must be accepted,”. Uzbekistan has meanwhile become a key hub for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, a move acknowledged by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in March. Uzbek President Mirziyoyev recently dispatched a delegation to Washington, urging more assistance to Afghanistan. Irgashev claimed Tashkent has persuaded the European Union to return diplomats to Kabul and hopes the US will ultimately take similar steps.
At the end of 2021, the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Uzbekistan (RU) announced that it had completed repairs to the transmission lines linking the RU power system to consumers in Afghanistan and fully restored electricity supplies to that country. It is notable that these supplies are being made in the absence of cash payments from the Afghan side, based on a 10-year 2019 contract with energy company Da Afghanistan Brreshna Sherkat (DABS). The annual volume of supplies is envisaged at 6 billion kWh. According to Uzbek sources, supplies so far have been carried out on a barter basis (agricultural and textile raw materials, brown coal and livestock are supplied from Afghanistan in return). Uzbekistan accounts for more than half of Afghanistan’s electricity imports (with the rest coming from Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan).
The Afghan-Uzbek border transit complex Termez-Hairatan (across the Amu Darya River), which carries at least half of Afghanistan’s merchandise imports, mainly food, petroleum products and medicines (including humanitarian supplies), is operating at increasing capacity.
In addition, the Uzbek side (so far also in barter) is renovating the Mazar-i-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan, located about 70 km from the border with Uzbekistan. Cooperation between Tashkent, Ashgabat and Kabul on water use in the bordering Amu Darya is also under study.
The Hairatan-Mazar-e-Sharif railway, which is currently operated by state-owned Uzbekistan Railways (URW), will gradually be transferred to the Afghanistan Railway Authority (ARA), TOLOnews reported recently, citing URW officials. According to Afghan officials, Afghanistan pays URW $18 million a year to run the railway. It is one of the main transit routes for Afghan goods, with the Afghan authorities receiving between $2.5 million and $4 million a month from transit through it.
In view of the ongoing difficult food situation in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan sent 63-car trainload of humanitarian aid to the neighboring country late last year. The cargo then included food, clothing and coal. At the end of April, Uzbekistan sent another 58-car trainload of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. The train departed through the Ayritom border customs post at Termez.
On March 30 and 31, the third Foreign Ministers’ Meeting among the Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan was held in Tunxi, PRC. It was attended by members of the governments and foreign ministers of Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. At that meeting, while discussing prospects for cooperation on the “Afghan issue”, Uzbekistan proposed developing a mechanism for international recognition of Afghanistan’s provisional government. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Investment and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov, who represented Uzbekistan at the meeting, stressed the need to strengthen coordination of regional cooperation aimed at overcoming existing problems in Afghanistan, reviving the national economy, addressing social problems and promoting normalization in the country to accelerate its integration into the regional space and the world community.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.