Last week, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov received an Afghani Foreign Ministry delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai. “The sides have discussed the current state and the prospects of their relations and the schedule for their future contacts,” the press office of the Uzbek Foreign Ministry said after the meeting.
It was the first round of the Uzbek-Afghani foreign ministerial consultations. The sides discussed cooperation prospects in politics, trade, economy, transportation, communication, culture and other sectors as well as contacts in the framework of international organizations.
Both sides expressed commitment to improve their relations on the basis of mutual respect. However, according to Uzbek political scientist Rafik Sayfulin, political consultations are just consultations. “So, we should expect no crucial decisions or actions here,” he says.
On the other hand, he does not deny the fact that Uzbekistan is interesting in enhancing its influence over Afghanistan. “Uzbekistan has always been one of the key players in Afghanistan and nobody – neither the United States, nor Turkey or Russia – can influence its north without Uzbekistan’s mediation,” Sayfulin says.
The Uzbeks have helped the Afghanis to the motor road from Mazar-e Sharif to Kabul. They have built eleven bridges along the road and have thereby helped the Afghanis to restore the communication between their northern provinces and their capital. The Uzbeks also helped the Afghanis to build the railroad from Termez to Hairatan. That road was actively used by NATO during its Enduring Freedom operation in Afghanistan. Today, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan actively cooperate in transportation, communication, transit, energy and trade. In 2015, their trade exceeded $444.5mn, in Jan-Oct 2016 it amounted to $429mn.
During the meeting the sides discussed investments projects in agriculture, oil and gas extraction as well as the repair of the Salang tunnel. Uzbekistan wants Afghanistan to be stable and developed economy is the core of political stability. The Uzbeks were among the organizers of 6+2 – Afghanistan’s talks with its neighbors, Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well as with Russia and the United States as guarantor states. Today, the Uzbek-Afghani consultations have specific subjects, for example, the role of Rashid Dostum, the leader of the Uzbek community of Afghanistan. “Today, everybody is waiting for news from the United States. Donald Trump will hardly look at Afghanistan soon. So, the main thing now is to keep the things the way they are. Today, Uzbekistan can hardly invest a lot in the Afghani economy. It can just help the country to implement its infrastructure. In this field, the key players are the Asian Development Bank and China. As regards Uzbekistan, it can act as a guarantor of economic projects in the north of Afghanistan,” Sayfulin says.
But things in Afghanistan are not good: according to Dostum and Russia’s Special Representative to Kabul Zamir Kabulov, ISIL is going to send over 10,000 well-trained fighters to the north of the country with a view to cause instability in Central Asia.
“The Taliban has long reached the north of Afghanistan. Concerning ISIL, there are lots of rumors. You can come to terms with the Taliban but never with those who are currently being forced out of Iraq and Syria. They constitute a big threat for Central Asia, first of all, for Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Only Russia can be a guarantor here. China will not do this, the EU and NAO have more serious problems to solve, in the United States Trump is not yet in power,” Sayfulin says.