The United States, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan last week held a video conference, inaugurating the new trilateral format of cooperation.
The teleconference linked Uzbek foreign minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, US Under Secretary of State for political affairs David Hale and acting Afghan foreign minister Haneef Atmar.
The agenda included issues of peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, the reaching of political consensus on inclusive government and the establishment of the Supreme Council for national reconciliation.
In addition, the parties discussed ways to support infrastructure projects implemented in the Central Asian region with the participation of Afghanistan – the construction of the Surkhan-Puli-Khumri power line, Mazar-i-Sharif-Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul rail lines, TAPI gas pipeline project.
“The Uzbekistan-USA- Afghanistan trilateral format is a consultative mechanism for developing practical proposals aimed at promoting the peace process in Afghanistan, reviving the country’s economy, and involving it into regional economic processes,” the Uzbek foreign ministry said in a press release.
The US State Department has published the final joint statement, which outlines the priority areas in which the three countries intend to deepen cooperation. Here is an excerpt from this part of the statement:
- Developing security cooperation and intensifying joint efforts to combat cross-border threats along the frontier between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and to address issues such as terrorism, drug and precursor trafficking, smuggling, illegal migration, human trafficking, and wildlife trafficking throughout the region;
- Improving rail connectivity, including increasing the volume of freight transit traffic between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan and beyond, with a view to the uninterrupted delivery of food, essential goods, medications, especially in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, and improving regional transit integration.
- Promoting trade between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan by reviewing and improving legal frameworks, policy reforms, sharing of information, use of appropriate technology, risk management, investment in infrastructure and human resources and removing constraints and bottlenecks, including through the development of the Free Economic Zone at the Termez border crossing;
- Discussing the construction of railways linking Uzbekistan with ports in Pakistan and beyond, in particular, discussion of the feasibility of construction of railways along the Mazar-e-Sharif-Herat-Bahramcha and Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Torkham routes;
- Mitigating the consequences of COVID-19 on food security;
- Supporting regional energy projects such as CASA-1000 (the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project), Central Asia Regional Electricity Market (CAREM), multi-lateral development bank electricity transmission projects, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Pipeline, and the construction of the 500 kilovolt Surkhan-Puli-Khumri (Khoja-Alvan) power transmission line;
- Expanding opportunities for people-to-people exchanges and joint training, including at the Afghan Training Center in Termez;
- Increasing humanitarian engagement between our peoples, including through coordination to confront the current pandemic, future public health crises, and natural disasters;
- Promoting women’s equality and economic empowerment so that women can serve as drivers of the response to and recovery from the impacts COVID-19.
The parties agreed to create appropriate working groups to promote cooperation in these areas.
The full text of the Joint statement on the U.S. – Afghanistan – Uzbekistan Trilateral Meeting can be found here:
In February of this year, during his visit to Tashkent, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the United States will provide a million dollars to increase cross-border trade and connectivity between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
Stronger ties between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan will support peace and prosperity, not only here and in Afghanistan but for all of South-Central Asia, Central Asia, and beyond, he said at the time.
United States announces new program to support cross-border trade between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan
One reasonable question comes into mind, shaded with skepticism – how effective will the new trilateral platform on Afghanistan be? It is difficult to make any optimistic forecasts, given that the United States has an image of a destabilizing force in Eurasia.
Another question that suggests itself and again hints at the illogic of the White House’s policy in the Central Asian region – why is Washington creating a “partnership format” for Afghanistan with only one Central Asian country? After all, Afghanistan has other neighbors with much longer borders -Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
For example, Turkmenistan, guided by considerations of economic expediency, despite numerous skeptical and notorious epithets about the security situation in Afghanistan, is actively realizing a policy of involving this war-torn country in the network of transport connectivity and energy exchange. Al those monitoring the situation in Central Asia and Afghanistan, familiar with such projects as the under construction Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, power lines and fiber-optic communication along the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) route, Serkhetabat-Torghundi railway, the Kerki-Imamnazar-Aqina railway (the first stage of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway corridor), and the Lapis lazuli corridor.
And here is one interesting moment beyond someone’s comprehension. Naturally, all these above-mentioned initiatives and efforts of Turkmenistan are supported by the UN and various other partners and more multilateral platforms on Afghanistan (for example, the Istanbul Heart of Asia process, SPECA), while the US Central Asian strategy for 2019-2025 does not contain any single mention of them.
In addition, there are many other formats (the Moscow format, the SCO-Afghanistan contact group) to address Afghan issues that could be supported by the United States.
At least, the practical efforts for the economic and transport integration of Afghanistan could be stepped up by USA within the framework of the C5+1 format (five Central Asian countries + the United States). Of course, this would be possible if the White House was sincerely ready to correct its two-decade old mistake with the unleashing of the “anti-terrorist war” in Afghanistan.
However, as long as Washington strategists have aspirations of a destabilizing nature in their minds, the desire to annoy geopolitical rivals with scheming in one or another part of the world, including in Central Asia and Afghanistan, there will be no way for common sense. And the true goals lie behind the ambiguously interpreted diplomatic slang. /// nCa, 1 June 2020