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The growing ties between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan

Published Date: January 28, 2017

 

The Uzbek Minister of Foreign Affairs, along with a high ranking delegation, came to Kabul on Monday. The delegation met President Ghani and other senior Afghan officials and signed five agreements of bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

Uzbekistan is one of the most powerful neighbors of Afghanistan, which have many commonalities with this country, but, compared to other Central Asian Countries, Afghanistan have had weak relations with Uzbekistan.

After the Bonn Conference and the formation of the new Afghan government, although Afghanistan established relations with Uzbekistan, but these relations were not as improved as relations with other Central Asian countries. After the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG) in Afghanistan, officials of the two countries tried to further cooperation between the two countries.

Here you would read about the background of the Afghan-Uzbek relations, requisites and opportunities of these relations and the significance of signature of the recent agreements between the two countries.

 

The background of Kabul-Tashkent relations

Uzbekistan, with having 137km border with Afghanistan, is a northern neighbor of this country which has more than 30 million population and is one of the most populous countries in the Central Asia. Relations between the two countries go back in times that the two countries were a united (one) region and Samarqand was part of Ahmad Shah Abdali’s empire.

Afghanistan and Uzbekistan were, once, governed by communist governments. At that time the two countries had boasted close relations in areas of culture, politics, education, trade and etc.

After the overthrow of the Soviet Union in 1991, Uzbekistan declared independence and Afghanistan was one of the first countries to recognize its independence and after one year, during the Presidency of Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan opened its embassy in Uzbekistan.

During the civil war in Afghanistan, cooperating with some engaged groups, Uzbekistan established relations with the involved parties in the country. Back then, Uzbekistan supported General Dustem, from Uzbek ethnic group who was also one of the main involved parties in the Afghan civil war and controlled vast areas in northern Afghanistan. At that time, besides smuggling drugs, Uzbekistan was selling weapons and other military equipment in Afghanistan.

After the collapse of Kabul at the hands of the Taliban, Uzbekistan, on the one hand, closed its border with Afghanistan and did not recognized the Taliban government and on the other hand, created the “Six plus Two Group on Afghanistan” [1] in 1997 in order to end the civil war in Afghanistan, which operated till the 9/11 incident but did not have desiring outcomes.

 

The post-2001 Kabul-Tashkent relations

After the overthrow of the Taliban regime and formation of the new government in Afghanistan, once again, the two countries established relations and opened embassies on each other’s soils. The Afghan government signed agreements in areas of economy and trade with Uzbekistan and based on these agreements, Uzbekistan agreed to cooperate with Afghanistan in areas of transit, electricity, road construction, agriculture and etc.

Transferring electricity from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan and constructing the first railway in Afghanistan, which connected the Termez city of Uzbekistan to the Hairatan port of Afghanistan, were the two major projects between the two countries. In 1391, 1392 and 1393, most of Afghanistan’s imported electricity was provided by Uzbekistan. [2]

However, Afghanistan’s relations with Uzbekistan were somehow more tenuous than other Central Asian countries and efforts have been made to improve these relations as well.

After the formation of the NUG in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan was one of the countries that were included in the first circle of President Ghani’s foreign policy and the Afghan President tried to improve relations with this country in order to enhance economy, transit and etc.

Ghani believed Uzbekistan to be the closest way to connect Afghanistan to China and Russia, therefore, in an unprecedented move, passing through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Afghan government succeeded to connect Afghanistan to China by railway. In September 2016, the first Chinese train reached to the Hairatan port of Afghanistan and transported Afghanistan’s exporting goods in its way back to China.

The NUG has also inked agreements with Uzbekistan in other areas such as the agreement to rise electricity imports from Uzbekistan by 10%, purchase wheat, improve transit and trade between the two countries and etc. these agreements have, to some extent, facilitated trade for Afghanistan and has freed Afghanistan from other countries limitations.

 

Requisites and opportunities in Afghan-Uzbek relations

Transit and trade: Uzbekistan was one of the significant supply routes for international troops in Afghanistan and approximately 70% of their needed oil was being imported to Afghanistan through this way, therefore, this country became more significant than ever.

Afghanistan is a land-locked country and needs the transit routes of its neighbors for trading and transiting. Currently, the value of annual trade between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan is $350m, [3] but still there is room to improve. In addition, Uzbekistan is also a land-locked country and Afghanistan can connect it to sea.

  • Struggle against extremist groups and drug smugglers: some extremist groups (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan under the leadership of Taher Uldash and Juma Namengani), who had entered Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, despite many efforts, were unable to extend their activities in Uzbekistan and finally retreated to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fight against drug smuggling is another common factor that can be facilitated with cooperation between the two countries.
  • Various commonalities: besides neighborhood, Afghanistan shares common religion, culture, ethnic groups and history with Uzbekistan. The two countries, therefore, have vast mutual interests and, therefore, close relations between them is in the best interests of both countries.
  • Change in the Uzbek foreign policy: after the demise of Islam Karimove, Shawkat Mir Ziayef succeeded him and brought some changes in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy. The new President seeks to promote relations with countries in the region especially Afghanistan and this is an opportunity to improve relations between the two countries.

 

Recent bilateral agreements

In recent visit of Abdul Aziz Kamelove to Kabul, officials of the two countries signed five agreements of bilateral cooperation. These agreements were signed in areas of struggle against drug smuggling, cooperation between the foreign ministries of the two countries, cooperation in areas of transport infrastructures and other projects and creation of a joint security commission and the roadmap of cooperation between the two countries.[4] The “Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce” also opened office to expand trade between the two countries and other agreements were also signed in areas of purchasing Ambulances, medicine, electric and construction equipment.

Signature of these agreements is a new chapter in Kabul-Tashkent relations, which is very important in economic fields for on the one hand, Afghanistan is like a bridge for Uzbekistan that connects this country to the South Asia and on the other hand, Uzbekistan is a short route for Afghanistan that would connect this country with China and Russia.

In the meanwhile, signature of these agreements also signify that, unlike the case in 2014, Uzbekistan is no longer afraid of the situation in Afghanistan and now signature of these agreements and the Uzbek President’s invitation from the Afghan President to visit Uzbekistan shows that this country wants comprehensive relations with Afghanistan.

The end

[1] Wikipedia” Six plus Two Group on Afghanistan” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_plus_Two_Group_on_Afghanistan

[2] “Afghanistan in the past one and a half decades”, a research and analytical report of CSRS about the situation of Afghanistan, Chapter of Energy, page 272, publishing year: 1395 solar year.

 

[3] Read more here: http://www.acci.org.af/da/component/content/article/38-news/1048-n.html

[4] Read more on the presidential office’s page: http://president.gov.af/fa/news/298463

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