Kabul-Taliban talks can be held in Tashkent

Kabul-Taliban talks can be held in Tashkent

The Road Map for peace talks with the Taliban (banned in Russia) is ready, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said at the international conference on Afghanistan, which was held yesterday in Geneva. Kabul is determined to start a dialogue with the Taliban and achieve success. Bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table will be possible after a series of meetings, which were held first in Tashkent and then in Moscow. But the Taliban representatives indicated that they would enter into negotiations with the Afghan authorities only after agreeing with the United States on a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. Experts believe that the Taliban has started bargaining.

The European Union has allocated over half a billion dollars to support political and social reforms in Afghanistan. The agreement to provide assistance to Kabul was signed in Geneva on November 27. According to experts, it would push the Afghan government and the opposition in the person of the Taliban to start talks to resolve the situation in Afghanistan.

President Ghani promised to start a dialogue with opponents in the near future. He said that a 12-person negotiating team has already been formed, led by Abdul Salam Rahimi. The Taliban will be represented by head of the Taliban's political office Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, his deputies  Abdul Salam Hanafi and Shahabuddin Dilawar, as well as members of the Taliban office in Qatar Zia-ul-Rahman Madani and Mohammad Sohail Shahin. They also came to the conference in Moscow and closed negotiations in Tashkent. "No armed groups with ties to transnational terrorist networks or transnational criminal organizations will be allowed to join the political process," Ashraf Ghani said.

Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating. Over the past month, several attacks have occurred in Kabul, causing hundreds of civilian casualties. On November 25, at least 20 police officers were killed when their convoy was ambushed by Taliban militants in the province of Farah, the Associated Press reported.

Tashkent, which has been delegated some problematic Afghan issues by the U.S., can become a place for inter-Afghan talks. Uzbekistan has had its own Afghan strategy since the late 1990s, and it has never changed. Its main principles are: avoiding a military solution, establishing a political dialogue, reducing the influence of non-regional countries on Kabul and the intra-Afghan settlement, focusing on the economy. Therefore, Uzbekistan has serious chances to become a moderator in the intra-Afghan settlement.

Expert on the Afghan issue Kasym Bekmukhamedov believes that the main role of Uzbekistan is to present a venue for talks and other meetings. The International Ministerial Conference" Afghanistan - the path to a peaceful future, which was held on March 26-27, 2018 in Tashkent was successful in terms of the participation of key international players, including Russia, the U.S. and China.

Kabul fully supports Tashkent's initiative. Of all the countries in the region, Uzbekistan has greater experience in promoting the peace process in Afghanistan. In 1999, Tashkent hosted a meeting of the '6 + 2' contact group at the level of deputy foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, as well as Russia and the United States, with the participation of representatives of the warring parties, including the Taliban movement. Of course, Uzbekistan's role is very important, but even if Uzbekistan’s efforts are supported by the U.S., we should not expect any crucial decisions on Afghanistan can be made at the negotiating venue in Tashkent (or Moscow). Because the United States will continue to play the first violin in Afghan issues in the coming years. The fact is that, in reality, out of all the heavyweight players involved in the Afghan processes, the Taliban prefers to deal with the United States - the Americans can give them more than others," Bekmukhamedov told Vestnik Kavkaza.

Doctor of Political Sciences, Deputy Director General of the Center for Strategic Estimations and Forecasts Igor Pankratenko believes that Tashkent was able to propose a new approach to the problem of "legalizing" the Taliban and its "coming to power" through the Taliban's participation in serious economic projects, in particular TAPI. It was tacitly agreed in Beijing, Islamabad and New Delhi. "In a relatively short time, the Uzbek diplomacy has managed to achieve a lot in this direction. And Moscow's initiative [Afghanistan Conference in Moscow - VK] at the peak of Tashkent’s activity was met in these capitals with bewilderment. 'There are concrete agreements, Uzbekistan's efforts do not cause rejection, Kabul and the Taliban are establishing contact with Tashkent! Why do wee need Moscow's activity?' China, India and Pakistan wondered," Pankratenko told Vestnik Kavkaza.

Leading expert of the Center of Contemporary Afghanistan Studies Andrei Serenko told Vestnik Kavkazka that the transfer of talks to the Russian capital and the arrival of the Taliban delegation to Moscow on November 9 alerted not only Americans and Kabul, but also the countries that are more loyal in their perception of Moscow’s actions. "Therefore, the request for the strengthening of Tashkent as a regional alternative will most likely be supported by a number of countries, which have certain interests in and around Afghanistan," Serenko believes.

Uzbekistan, in addition to the political dialogue, is conducting active economic cooperation with Afghanistan. Political scientist, doctor of historical sciences Rafik Sayfulin told Vestnik Kavkaza that all the projects outlined by Uzbekistan are being fulfilled within the limits of its resources and capabilities. Whether it is cross-border trade or electricity supply.

By the way, electricity supplies to Afghanistan have increased by 1000 megawatts per year since July 2018. While the price of exported electricity decreased by more than 30% - to 3.5 AFN ($0.05) per kilowatt. Due to the increase in deliveries, Uzbekistan has begun construction of a new transmission line (Surkhan-Puli-Khumri), which total length will be 260 km, including 45 km along the territory of Uzbekistan. The construction of transmission lines worth $150 million will be mainly funded by the Afghan government (de facto - the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, controlled by the United States) - $120 million. The remaining funds will be invested by Uzbekenergo JSC. However, the agreements reached between Tashkent and Kabul in late June 2018 that after signing the relevant documents on the Production Sharing Agreement, Uzbekistan will start producing hydrocarbons in northern Afghanistan, are even more important and fundamental. "But obviously that's not enough to influence the situation in Afghanistan," Sayfulin conclued.