OPINION - Central Asian leaders evolve positions on Taliban-led Afghanistan
While Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan are keen on cooperation with Taliban, Tajikistan remains skeptical
The writer is a UK-based analyst and has worked with universities in three Central Asian countries.
The official position, preferences, and priorities of Central Asian leaders towards Taliban-led Afghanistan are becoming clearer now.
President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan, the country that shares an 800 kilometers long border with Afghanistan, has voiced his readiness to work closely with the new Afghan government and provide assistance to help normalize the situation in Afghanistan and ensure its sustainable socio-economic revival.
He stressed that his country will be pursuing "an exclusively peaceful foreign policy, without interfering in the internal affairs of foreign states."
In line with the president's statement, Turkmenistan's ambassador in Kabul, Khoja Ovezov, met with the Taliban government's Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and discussed cooperation in the energy sector.
Referring to the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, Muttaqi expressed interest in completing the construction of the Afghan section of the pipeline. He also requested the envoy to increase the supply of fuel to help address the issue of fuel prices in Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has also expressed optimism about the prospects of establishing good neighborly relations with the new rulers in Kabul. The country is facilitating safe passage for aid and food supplies to reach the Afghanistan city of Mazar Sharif through the southern Uzbek city of Termez.
Acknowledging that at present, Afghanistan needs help, he said his country is prepared to facilitate transportation of food supplies from other countries through the train link. Mirziyoiev pointed out that the Uzbek side has opened the Termez-Hairaton bridge to assist Afghanistan.
Kyrgyz delegation meets Taliban leaders
On Sept. 23, Kyrgyzstan sent a high-level team to Kabul for face-to-face interaction with the government appointed by the Taliban. Last week, Deputy Chairman of Kyrgyzstan Security Council Taalatbek Masadykov arrived in Afghanistan as an emissary of Kyrgyzstan President Sadyr Japarov.
The Kyrgyz delegation also handed over a cargo of humanitarian aid to Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who stressed the need to build confidence with neighboring countries. He noted that it is important for the Taliban to establish peace in the country and engage in economic development to improve the lives of the population, according to the press spokesman of Kyrgyzstan President.
Earlier, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov stated that Kyrgyzstan is committed to "non-interference in the internal affairs" and "support friendly relations" with Afghanistan. He also expressed the need to conduct a dialogue with representatives of the new Afghan rulers on cooperation on various issues to stabilize the situation in the country.
On Sept. 26, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry reported that their Afghanistan envoy Alimzhan Esengeldiev met Muttaqi. Sources in Kabul reported that the two discussed trade, as Kazakhstan has been exporting grain, flour, and fuel to Afghanistan. He also pledged that Kazakhstan would provide humanitarian aid. The exports have resumed, and as of Sept. 29, approximately 200,000 tons of flour and 33,000 tons of grain have been delivered to Afghanistan via Uzbekistan.
Zuhro Halimova, a Dushanbe-based analyst, said Tajikistan is perhaps the only country with no interest in conciliation with the Taliban as other Central Asian states.
"Dushanbe is neither as pragmatic as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan nor as conciliatory as Russia and China. Dushanbe has declared that it will not recognize the Taliban if the government setup does not include representatives from Tajiks but Uzbeks," she said.
Tajikistan champions Tajik cause
Addressing the UN General Assembly via video link, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon declared the Taliban's rise to power "has further complicated the region's already complex geopolitical process." He said that the Tajiks of Afghanistan, along with other ethnic groups of the country, "have the right to take their deserved pie in the public affairs."
Observers suggest that Tajikistan's significance in the region is because it shares 1,200 km long borders and hence shares geography and ethnicity with Afghanistan. The Tajik president is projecting himself as the champion of the Tajik cause, said Halimova.
The analyst said the history prevents Dushanbe from believing in the Taliban, pointing out that their treatment of the Tajik population during their first tenure from 1996-2001 was far from reassuring.
Also, Tajikistan's trajectory as a secular, modern society is in stark contrast to the Taliban and their conservative outlook.
Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan remain keen to establish contact with the Taliban as they wish to export gas and electricity via Afghanistan. Kazakhstan aspires to be the leading grain supplier to Afghanistan, while Uzbekistan aims to extend a railway line via Afghanistan for greater connectivity to South Asia.
Due to domestic political exigencies, Tajikistan's leadership will continue to advocate the rights of Afghanistan's ethnic Tajik citizens. But it also appears that Russia and especially China would use their offices and influence on Dushanbe not to rock the boat and go too far against Taliban-led Afghanistan at this time to start another bout of instability in the region.
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