After the Taliban seized the power in Afghanistan in mid-August, Central Asian presidents need to define their political and diplomatic approach towards the new government, wondering how to deal with the re-established Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
In addition to the current problem to manage the flux of refugees escaping from the country, security concerns are predominant in Central Asia agenda. As a matter of fact, in spite of Taliban’s reassurances that they do not aim to extend their influence outside the country and their commitment to fight against terrorist forces (namely the Islamic State Khorasan Province, but also other groups such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Jamaat Ansarullah, a jihadist group composed by Tajik fighters), Central Asian presidents are extremely worried about the fact that Taliban’s success could dangerously revitalize these radical groups, who are perceived as concrete threats to the national borders and domestic stability, while undermining a secular legitimacy.
Until now, we can observe that Central Asian republics that share a border with Afghanistan have adopted different approaches toward the Taliban: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan appear oriented to promote a dialogue, while Tajikistan is profoundly suspicious and reluctant to consider them as a reliable political partner. During a public remark on the 25th of August Tajik President Rahmon declared that his country will recognize the Taliban leadership only if its creates an inclusive government including ethnic Tajik and other Afghanistan’s minorities, considered a condition to preserve regional security and domestic stability of Central Asian bordering countries (President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Mahdum Shah Mahmood Qureshi, August 25, 2021, http://president.tj/node/26366). Rahmon’s claim appears motivated considering that ethnic Tajiks comprise about 27 percent of Afghanistan’s population, the second largest ethnic group after Pashtuns, which are 40%of Afghans (Minority Rights, Afghanistan, https://minorityrights.org/country/afghanistan/).
On the contrary, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have undertaken an open approach, based on political dialogue in order to preserve stability in the region. On August 12, Uzbek and Turkmen representatives met Mullah Baradar in Doha to discuss about regional security. However, it is relevant to highlight that this is not a new orientation based on the latest events: indeed, Uzbekistan has started talks with Taliban since 2018, hosting a delegation in Tashkent, while this year Turkmen representatives met Taliban three times.
Looking forward to evaluating Taliban’s concrete engagement to eradicate terrorism (even if the IS-K bloodshed attack at the Kabul airport shows Taliban’s hard task in the coming months), Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have already experienced how the sudden power shift in Kabul has not affected railway and energy cooperation with Afghanistan: as a matter of fact, the Termez-Mazar I Sharif railway corridor and the Imamnazar-Aqina and Serhetabat-Torghundi border posts are operating as usual, as well as Turkmen electricity supplies to Afghanistan are regular. If Kabul will keep up security this will allow to increase infrastructural, trade and energy cooperation and in turn facilitate a future recognition of the Afghan emirate.
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PhD in Geopolitics. He is non-resident researcher at the Center for Energy Governance and Security (EGS South Korea) and analyst at the Observatory for Central Asia and Caspian.