Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Uzbekistan Remains Committed Pragmatic Model of Relations with Afghanistan

Thu 18 May 2023 | 09:00 PM
Aziz Karimov, Independent Researcher, Expert on Central Asia, Afghanistan

With the election of Shavkat Mirziyoyev as head of state in 2016, Uzbekistan has significantly stepped up its policy in the Afghan direction. Since that time, the Afghan strategy of Uzbekistan has become even more meaningful, pragmatic and dynamic.

A vivid confirmation of this is the peace initiatives of Uzbekistan aimed at resolving the situation in Afghanistan. In particular, in 2018 at the initiative of the President of Uzbekistan, in Tashkent was held an international high-level conference on Afghanistan “Peace process, security cooperation and regional connectivity”.

In the Tashkent Declaration adopted as a result of the above-mentioned conference, for the first time, a universal consensus was consolidated on the need for a political settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. That is, the countries of the world, which are involved in the Afghan crisis have again recognized the fact that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. This gave a tangible impetus to the resumption of the peace process and the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations.

Thus, Uzbekistan has made its contribution to ending the armed conflict in Afghanistan and reducing the military component of the Afghan crisis. In addition, Uzbek diplomacy managed to regain the lost attention of the international community to the situation in Afghanistan.

The next important event in this context was the high-level international conference “Central and South Asia: regional connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities” organized on July 15-16, 2021 in Uzbekistan. This event highlighted the paramount role of peace and stability in Afghanistan to strengthen interregional ties.

So, the participants of the high-level event came to the understanding of the impossibility of restoring close historical ties between Central and South Asia without ending the military-political crisis in Afghanistan. After all, it is Afghanistan that has been assigned the role of a kind of connecting link and a vital trade artery between the two large regions, which is directly related to the prospects for the implementation of the Trans-Afghan Corridor promoted by Uzbekistan.

In this connection, Uzbekistan’s plans to construct a solid model of interregional connectivity between Central and South Asia can be regarded as a logical continuation and an important part of the Afghan strategy of the republic.

However, with recent political developments in Afghanistan, that is, with the advent of the Taliban movement to power in Kabul, we can talk about the beginning of a new stage in Uzbekistan’s systemic efforts to stabilize the situation on Afghan soil. A distinctive feature of this period is the shift in emphasis in the Afghan policy of Uzbekistan from ensuring political stability to the need to prevent the aggravation of the socio-economic situation in Afghanistan.

Such goals are dictated by Tashkent’s concern about the growing economic crisis in Afghanistan and the resulting unpredictable consequences. In particular, today Afghanistan is experiencing an unprecedented humanitarian and socio-economic crisis in its scale.

According to the latest UN data, in 2022 the number of people in need in humanitarian aid to Afghans exceeded 24 million, an increase of 6 million over the previous year. This is about 60% of the country’s population.

The above situation confirms the need to unite the efforts of the international community to provide urgent assistance to the Afghan people. After all, the methods of economic pressure used on the Afghan authorities can worsen the already difficult socio-economic situation in Afghanistan.

Realizing this, in 2022 the authorities of Uzbekistan held the next conference “Afghanistan: security and economic development”. During this event the issues of post-conflict economic reconstruction of Afghanistan became the central theme. Notably, above event was the first high-level international conference since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. The uniqueness of this conference was that it was attended by a representative delegation of the interim Afghan government and more than 100 representatives from 30 countries of the world.

All of the above factors show that Uzbekistan is trying to adapt its Afghan policy to the new conditions that have arisen around and inside Afghanistan. In particular, on the one hand, Tashkent continues a constructive dialogue with the Taliban, on the other hand, it is trying to convince the interim Afghan government of the need to comply with international requirements. These conditions include the formation of an inclusive government, the end of ties with destructive organizations and ensuring the rights of women and children.

At the same time, Uzbekistan calls on Western countries to stop freezing Afghan foreign assets and pay more attention to the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. Thus, Tashkent is trying to return the Afghan issue to the center of the international agenda. Because the aggravation of geopolitical tensions between the leading countries of the world leads to the weakening of international attention to the Afghan problem.

The continued activity of Uzbekistan in the Afghan direction is also evidenced by the positive dynamics of trade and economic exchanges. Today, Afghanistan is among the top 10 trading partner countries of Uzbekistan. If we analyze bilateral relations in 2022, we can note a number of positives events and trends. Among them, the growth of mutual trade to 759.9 million dollars in 2022, which is 15% higher compared to the previous year (in 2021 - 673.7 million dollars).

The next important aspect in the system of modern relations between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is humanitarian cooperation, within which country is highly active. In particular, between September 2021 and September 2022, Uzbekistan sent humanitarian aid to Afghanistan 5 times. As a result, the total amount of aid reached 10,000 tons.

Another important step in this direction was the launch in Termez in 2021 of an international hub for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which created ample opportunities for the effective implementation of centralized, targeted and systemic international humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.

In addition to the above, Uzbekistan continues to make a significant contribution to ensuring the energy security of Afghanistan.

Country covers 52% of Afghanistan’s electricity imports (2.7 billion kWh). In addition, negotiations are underway to complete the Surkhan-Puli-Khumri network project, which is able to increase the supply of electricity to the Afghan market. The attraction of international financial resources for the implementation of the above project is the result of agreements with the previous government of Afghanistan, which were reached in 2018.

In this context, it should be emphasized that the presence of Uzbekistan in the Afghan energy market can help ensure the stability of the Afghan economy and strengthen the historically friendly ties between the two peoples.

Summarizing the above aspects of Uzbekistan’s modern policy in Afghanistan, it can be concluded that country positions itself as a regional actor capable of establishing pragmatic relations with any political force on the Afghan political scene and having a stabilizing effect on the processes taking place inside Afghanistan. In its Afghan strategy, Uzbekistan intends to act as a conductor of the interests of all states of the Central Asian region that are interested in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan and developing the southern direction of trade and economic relations. Therefore, the prospects for Uzbekistan’s policy will bring sustainable stability not only to Afghanistan, but also economic well-being to all Central Asian states.