Uzbekistan began direct talks with the Taliban
Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdullaziz Kamilov and head of delegation of the Taliban's (banned in the Russian Federation) political office, Shir Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, exchanged views on the Afghan settlement. They also discussed possibility of developing a "road map", which will support negotiations between the conflict sides. Experts believe that despite the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan, Uzbek diplomacy managed to take serious step towards establishment of dialogue to resolve the most complex conflict of modern era.
The Taliban delegation flew to Uzbekistan from Qatar. In 2013, office of this radical movement opened in Doha with support of the United States and authorities of Qatar. However, according to former Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber Al Thani, Qatar agreed to open its office under pressure. "Americans wanted Taliban to have a place where they can negotiate with them," former Prime Minister said.
Office periodically shut down, people in charged of it were replaced. Current leadership represents only a part of the Taliban movement, which has split into several factions in recent years. Moreover, according to experts, representatives of the office have become American businessmen and just periodically play the role of "Taliban leaders". "I'm sure that Stanikzai has no influence on most of the Taliban in Afghanistan," Kazakh expert of the Polit-asia analytical portal Akbar Asanov told Vestnik Kavkaza. In his opinion, if someday the main part of the Taliban decides to reach a truce with Afghan government, Uzbekistan can act as an intermediary. But it won't happen soon. "In fact, no one needs peace in Afghanistan anymore, Afghans themselves don't know what peace is. As for Tashkent, its participation would be a serious foreign policy step," Asanov noted.
Meanwhile, Pakistani informational resource The Dispatch News Desk (DND) reported that "Taliban delegation visited Tashkent with blessing of Mullah Khabatullah - current leader of the Taliban. According to publication, talks in Tashkent are result of the US efforts. Recently, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells visited Doha, where she discussed ways to settle the Afghan conflict at a meeting with representatives of the Taliban. According to The Wall Street Journal, official talks with Kabul can begin only in a few months. The US State Department didn't confirm this information, but didn't refute it either, however, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani met with Special Representative of the Qatari Foreign Ministry Mutlak bin Majid al-Qahtani, who was on a visit to Kabul. Ghani expressed gratitude for Qatar's support of dialogue between sides of the Afghan conflict, as well as its mediating efforts in organizing peaceful negotiations.
Tashkent also helps to promote negotiation process. At the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbek capital held major conference on problems of Afghanistan and ways to resolve them. It was attended by foreign ministers of several countries, including Russia, as well as representatives of the EU and the UN. Afghanistan was represented by its President and Foreign Minister. However, key participant in this conflict - the Taliban movement - hasn't participated in this conference. Nevertheless, those who attended the event decided that Afghans themselves should establish peace in Afghanistan by launching large-scale internal negotiations, while other countries will help them by ensuring sustainable economic development. Uzbekistan promised to act as country-guarantor of the Afghan settlement.
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry held talks with representatives of the Taliban. Details and results of these talks haven't been revealed yet. According to Igor Pankratenko, a member of Scientific Council of the Institute for Central Asian and Afghan Studies, the Uzbek side's activities in Afghanistan are being closely followed, and not always by friends. Tashkent's decision to step up its policy in the issue that the United States, Russia, India, Iran, Pakistan couldn't resolve - from signing important economic agreements with Kabul to establishing working relations with the Taliban - sometimes raises skepticism and suspicion. Some say it's just a bluff of President Mirziyoyev, who seeks to raise Tashkent's rating in the eyes of external players, and in reality negotiations with the Taliban representatives are nothing more than an imitation. Some argue that Uzbekistan just plays the role that the United States gave it. Where do these views come from is a separate topic. What is the "Afghan project" that Tashkent proposes to Kabul, the Taliban and external players? First, it suggests that the Taliban shouldn't be treated as an "existential evil" and that it's necessary to recognize it as a full-fledged political force that expresses interests of a fairly large part of the Afghan population. By the way, Islam Karimov proposed similar measure in the 1990s, when the United Tajik Opposition was discussed. As a result, the civil was in Tajikistan ended with signing of the Moscow peace agreement. In other words, this scheme, proposed by Uzbekistan, already proved its viability. Second of all, Tashkent proposes to legalize the Taliban not through abstract political mechanisms that aren't completely reliable in conditions of local specifics, but through specific economic projects. Work within the framework of these projects can help to unite yesterday's enemies and help to make a profit, which is extremely important for Afghanistan. That's why Tashkent proposed so many economic projects - from geological project to transport infrastracture construction - in just two months. Afghanistan and the Taliban not only expressed interest in cooperation, but also committed to ensuring their safety. Tashkent's proposal was already coordinated with Washington and with Beijing. As for other external players, an extremely complex discussion process still continues.
Director of the Center for Research Initiatives Ma'no Bakhtiyor Ergashev wrote on his Facebook page that "Uzbekistan has ability to pursue active policy in Afghanistan, in the Afghan settlement. Conference on Afghanistan in March of 2018; agreements reached during visit of Uzbek President to the US; ongoing discussions with the Russian Federation on ways to deal with the ISIS (banned in Russia) problem in Afghanistan; Chinese neutrality towards active participation of Uzbekistan in the Afghan settlement; all of this helps Uzbekistan to pursue its publicly voiced policy and support the Afghan settlement," Ergashev said. In his opinion, the fact that the Taliban delegation visited Tashkent is a good sign.