ISLAMABAD: The Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East & Africa (CAMEA) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) had a Panel Discussion on ‘Conversations on the Afghan Peace Process: Uzbekistan’s Role in Afghanistan’ which is the fourth in a series of conversations CAMEA will be having on Afghanistan – under its Conversations on the Afghan Peace Process series.
The distinguished speakers included: Mr. Ibraheem Bahiss, Consultant with Crisis Group’s Asia Program, Dr. Baktyor Mustafaev, Deputy Director of the International Institute of Central Asia Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Dr. Akram Umarov, Senior Research Fellow – The University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent, Dr. Vladimir Paramonov, Director / Founder, Central Eurasian Analytical Group, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Ambassador Masood Khalid, Former Pakistan Counselor to Uzbekistan from 1995-98. Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI, and Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BOG, ISSI, also took part in the discussion.
During her opening remarks, Ms. Amina Khan, Director CAMEA said since the Taliban takeover, with the exception of terrorist attacks by the ISKP, followed by the US drone strikes against the group, the transition process has been relatively smooth.
So far, the Taliban have presented a moderate face, where they have allowed the re-opening of schools and return of women to work – moreover, there have been talks of forming an inclusive government.
While there are some signs of resistance in the Panjsheer areas, by and far all political Afghan factions appear to be willing to work with the Taliban in an inclusive framework. However, with the US withdrawal, the real test for Taliban has only just begun.
It is imperative for the Taliban to engage with Afghan stakeholders and form a government that is inclusive and representative of all Afghans. Bewildered by instability in Afghanistan, regional actors have come to the forefront to play a more prominent role, and one such country is Uzbekistan, which has played an important role in the Afghan peace process, by engaging with all sides as well as hosting initiatives to help achieve a negotiated settlement. Moreover, Tashkent and Islamabad have a close and coordinated approach towards Afghanistan.
Ambassador Aizaz said that regional countries can play a key role in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan is one such country. He raised four important questions pertaining to the Taliban; will the Taliban be able to establish stability in Afghanistan?, will the world recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, how will the Taliban run the country and lastly, what will be the role of regional countries.
While talking about Uzbekistan, he said that under the dynamic leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev a new era of economic prosperity has opened for Uzbekistan, under which the country can play a key role in the prosperity, peace and stability of Afghanistan.
Mr. Ibraheem Bahiss believed that there is unity among international players as well as regional countries when it comes to ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorist organizations. All the neighboring countries are concerned with the peace and stability of Afghanistan.
At this stage, the Taliban should satisfy regional countries that they will not face any threats from Afghanistan. A viable strategy for the Taliban is to try and satisfy regional countries instead of trying to satisfy all actors, since the demands of regional countries are lesser than the West and regional countries primarily want to ensure that Afghanistan is not used by terrorists.
With regard to the challenges being faced by the Taliban, Mr. Bahiss said that the Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan will face various challenges like the formation of a government, its structure and their ability to run the country. Along with this another internal challenge which Taliban might face will be satisfaction of Afghans and their acceptance for the new regime.
Dr. Baktyor Mustafaev said that Uzbekistan considers Afghanistan as an integral part of Central Asia. With the changing dynamics in the region, new opportunities for regional connectivity are emerging. The recently held conference in Tashkent in July discussed the various opportunities for regional connectivity of Central and South Asia.
Peace and stability in Afghanistan are essential for regional connectivity and it is only possible through intra-afghan reconciliation. Regional countries should adopt a common approach towards Afghanistan. They should work together to bring some kind of joint projects relevant to the infrastructural development of Afghanistan, he said.
Dr. Akram Umarov said that the transformation of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan post-2016 is very important. Uzbekistan is now more focused on the economy and connectivity. He was optimistic that the situation in Afghanistan will be settled soon. If the new government in Afghanistan failed to fulfill its commitment then there will be instability and chaos in the region.
He mentioned that along with regional connectivity, the internal connectivity of Afghanistan is also imperative. If the country does not unite and connect from within there will be challenges for region as well as regional engagement. At this stage regional ownership of the Afghan issue is important. Moreover, the Taliban should make a moderate strategy to run the country for the long run.
Dr. Vladimir Paramonov said that it could be a new era of development for Afghanistan as well as Central Asia if the Taliban fulfill their promises regarding human rights and inclusiveness. Uzbekistan can play a very active role in the development of Afghanistan especially the northern provinces of Afghanistan by initiating infrastructure projects etc.
Russia and China can also play a key role and China could become a key investor in development of Afghanistan in this scenario. Uzbekistan has already been playing a proactive role in Afghanistan as evidenced by the rail route it has developed through Iran and Pakistan.
He said that Uzbekistan along with other regional countries, has adopted the policy of “wait and see” and Tashkent will be happy with any projects which will help Afghanistan in developing harmonious relations with its neighbours.
Ambassador Masood Khalid stated that the evolving situation in Afghanistan is of universal concern. He highlighted the significant change in the foreign policy of Uzbekistan, which is more outward-looking as compared to the past, now the country has the capacity to play a role in the region.
Since Uzbekistan cannot on its own undertake massive development projects in Afghanistan, therefore a reasonable approach after achieving peace would be for Uzbekistan to collaborate with other regional countries including Pakistan for political and economic development of Afghanistan. Once peace is restored in Afghanistan, it will increase opportunities for Uzbekistan to deepen ties with the regional countries.
While talking about the evolution within the Taliban, he said that the Taliban interpretation of Shariah is very strict which is why it will be very difficult for the Taliban to demote themselves ideologically.
Therefore, a drastic and fundamental change cannot be expected. He further stated that a stable Afghanistan is in the collective interest of all the regional countries. China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey can play an important role in developing a regional consensus. They can influence the future political dispensation in Afghanistan to have a moderate foreign policy, he said.
Ambassador Khalid Mahmood said that the international recognition of Taliban depends on the form of government that the Taliban form. A new era has dawned now with regard to Afghanistan and the region as a whole. It is for sure that no country wants to intervene in the domestic affairs of Afghanistan, but all want to play a supportive role for peace and stability in Afghanistan as it is in their interest.
He also said that a major concern for the neighboring countries is a possible influx of refugees. So far this fear has not materialized but it remains a concern as the situation is yet not clear.
However, the need of the hour is an early return of peace and stability in Afghanistan and to that end there is a great responsibility and role of the neighboring countries.