US supports Central Asia and Afghanistan
The delegation of the US State Department visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Manisha Singh held the economic cooperation meeting in the format Central Asia-USA (C5 +1) in Almaty, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Bureau for South and Central Asian Affairs Henry Enscher visited Tashkent. In the Uzbek capital, during the meeting of the Working Group on Security of the C5 + 1 cooperation format, the prospects for the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan were discussed.
The same days, according to the information of the Uzbek Embassy in the United States, the situation in Central Asia was discussed in Washington. The hearings on ‘Developments in Central Asia’ took place in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives of the US Congress. As Chairman of the Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Dana Rohrabacher noted, over the past two years, the positive dynamics have been observed in Central Asia. ”Due to the pragmatic policy of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan is in the forefront of progress in this part of the world today," the congressman said. He considers other positive developments in the region to be the election of Kazakhstan as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as the peaceful transit of power in Kyrgyzstan. The countries of Central Asia have become more active in developing trade, transport, and modernization of the infrastructure, which, in his opinion, is the basis of stability in the region.
Rohrabacher considers, that the USA should promote more actively the development in these countries, including the security issues and fight against drug trafficking. According to the congressman, "there are prerequisites for the openness of the Central Asian states for further cooperation."
According to Professor Frederic Starr, there are positive changes in the region due to Uzbekistan’s efforts. ”President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is the locomotive of progress in the region. None of the countries of the Muslim world has witnessed such large-scale reforms as took place in Uzbekistan over the past two years in the sphere of economy, government, legislation, foreign policy and religious freedom," the scientist said. He noted that due to the good-neighborly policy of Tashkent, today, the countries of Central Asia are beginning to discuss openly the most acute regional issues.
However, other speakers did not skimp on the high assessments of both the president of Uzbekistan himself and the prospects for the bilateral relations. Recall that during the visit of the Uzbek leader to the US, which took place in May this year, the final joint statement entitled ‘Uzbekistan and the United States: the beginning of a new era of strategic partnership’ was adopted. The main result of the agreements with Mirziyoyev is the ensuring of the smooth functioning of the Northern Distribution Network for Washington, through which the supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan are proceeding, taking into account the earlier agreements with Astana. By the way, the US reached a similar agreement with Kazakhstan during the January visit of Nursultan Nazarbayev to Washington.
Ph.D. in Political Sciences, the member of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Central Asia and Afghanistan Studies ‘Iran-East’ (Iran), Igor Pankratenko told Vestnik Kavkaza, that the Americans were convinced that for a number of problems of the Afghan settlement - from politics to reconstruction and infrastructure development projects - there are similar to the US approaches. The cost of the active inclusion in the peace process is high. The possibilities of Tashkent are very solid here. The Uzbek minority in Afghanistan is the second largest after the Tajik and has considerable influence in a number of northern regions of the country. Due to the fact that in the upcoming future, there is no need to expect the complete withdrawal of the Western troops from Afghanistan, it will not be superfluous for the United States to have a foothold in the country.
The meeting of the C5 + 1 working group in Tashkent was dedicated to the situation in Afghanistan, especially taking into account the return to the homeland of the leader of the Afghan Uzbeks - Abdul-Rashid Dostum. According to the press service of the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, the parties of the meeting exchanged views on the regional and international security issues, including strengthening cooperation in countering the threats of extremism, terrorism, and ensuring border security. The state and prospects of cooperation in the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan were also discussed. The participants of the meeting noted that the stable and sustainable development in Central Asia is inseparably linked with the achievement of peace and harmony in neighboring Afghanistan.
Recall that the C5 + 1 dialogue was resumed in Samarkand in November 2015 and is based on the strategy previously developed by Washington - The New Silk Road - and has the same tasks as the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which was introduced in 2014. For more details, see the United States opens new 'Big Game' season in Central Asia. Tashkent has its own interests in establishing peace in Afghanistan - the economic interests. It is no accident that Uzbekistan assumed the functions of a guarantor country to resolve the situation in Afghanistan. Tashkent believes that peace in the country must be established by Afghans themselves through launching the large-scale negotiations, and Uzbekistan and other countries of Central Asia are ready to help in ensuring the sustainable economic development. Tashkent has recently held several conferences on the Afghan issues, negotiating with both the government and the least odious representatives of the Taliban (the group banned in the Russian Federation). The director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of Uzbekistan, former Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Vladimir Norov said in an interview with the author: "Until the election of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president did not take part in the multilateral formats, our position was to cooperate with Afghanistan on a bilateral basis. Within the framework of this format, we built the Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif railway, set up electricity supplies, having increased its export volumes up to 30 times to 1.8 billion kWh since 2002. In 2018, the electricity supplies will be brought up to 2 billion kWh due to a creation of the additional Surkhan-Puli-Khumri power line. The conference was made possible due to the common interests of all countries in the region and a firm will to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan. In the action strategy adopted after the inauguration of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the main priority is the countries of Central Asia and the creation of a zone of stability, security and prosperity around Uzbekistan. This policy has quickly yielded results, thanks to a principled approach to resolving all the urgent issues. The President stated that there are no issues in the region that could not be resolved on the basis of the reasonable compromises and taking into account the interests of all the parties concerned. The new policy of Uzbekistan has pushed all countries of the region to solve the common problems. In addition, stability in Afghanistan is a question of our economic well-being, as our way to the southern seas goes through this country. According to the Boston Consulting Group, without it, we lose 20% of GDP annually.’’
Tashkent and Kabul agreed on the construction of a second section of the railway Mazar-i-Sharif-Shebergan-Maymana-Herat and cooperation in the field of freight and customs. Recall, the first line of the 75 km Hairaton- Mazar-i-Sharif railway was built in 2010. The project worth $ 129 million was financed by the Asian Development Bank.
However, the most promising sphere of the cooperation is oil and gas. Uzbekistan is ready to participate in the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India), which is lobbied by the United States. This was stated by Mirziyoyev in the course of negotiations with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. However, Associate Professor of Applied Political Science at the Financial University under the Government of Russia Yevgenia Voiko believes that this is a very costly and very risky project with a questionable profitability. In her opinion, although the integration projects in the macroregion are profitable for Tashkent, TAPI is only one of many such objects, and it is far from being the main one.
In particular, Tashkent is considering the possibility of starting the independent production of hydrocarbons in the north of Afghanistan. The countries are preparing the agreement on production sharing, the acting Minister of Mines and Industry of Afghanistan, Nargis Nehan said. According to her, during the talks held in Tashkent, the parties are considering several promising gas and oil fields in the Amu Darya oil and gas basin. According to various estimates, it contains up to 3 trillion cubic meters of gas and up to 500-600 million tons of liquid hydrocarbons, which makes it the second largest oil and gas basin in the south of Central Asia. Nehan said that the Uzbek side offered three investment blocks with prospective reserves of 85 million barrels. Uzbeknefegaz can also participate in the gas production at the fields (Juma and Bashikurt) near the Turkmen border, she added. The Afghan side estimates their reserves at 28 billion cubic meters.
Experts believe that all these projects have received the US support and their implementation will be started soon. In particular, Congressman Rohrabacher noted that the positive changes taking place in Uzbekistan and other countries of the region lay a solid foundation for improving the well-being of people, as well as preserving and strengthening peace in Central Asia.