Taliban threatened Central Asia with friendship

The Taliban movement (banned in Russia) seeks to establish contacts with its northern neighbors – the republics of Central Asia

Uzbekistan was chosen first. The Taliban send congratulations to Tashkent, offer to revive the railway project and promise to support the “partners”. Will Uzbekistan become the first of the former Soviet republics to cooperate with the Islamic Emirate?

On Monday, representatives of the Taliban movement (banned in Russia as terrorist) once again  announced  the end of the war in Afghanistan. Although the resistance to the Taliban in Panjshir may  not be  completely suppressed , the radicals entrenched in Kabul demonstrate that the Taliban Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is transitioning to a peaceful life and is ready to build ties with its neighbors – if not political, then at least economic. Last Wednesday, the Taliban sent congratulations to the Uzbek Foreign Ministry   on the 30th anniversary of the republic’s independence. But the matter was not limited to protocol phrases.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, Mohammad Suheil Shahin, confirmed the new regime’s interest in continuing infrastructure projects. According to Shahin’s statement, the Taliban are interested in two cross-border projects. Both were discussed as recently as July during a meeting between Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. But the latter, as you know, lost power and fled – and the Taliban inherited interstate initiatives.

The first project is the construction of a power line from the Uzbek Surkhan to the Afghan Puli-Khumri. It is known that Afghanistan depends on the supply of electricity from Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The project of the power transmission line “Surkhan – Puli-Khumri” is obviously beneficial for the Uzbek side. The line with a length of two hundred kilometers and a cost of about $ 110 million should increase the export of electricity from Uzbekistan by 70%.

The second project is the continuation of the railway from Tashkent to the Uzbek border town of Termez. The highway is planned to be extended through Afghan Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul to Pakistani Peshawar. The appearance of such a railway (provided that transportation and travel along it are safe) will mean the access of the Central Asian countries to Pakistani and Indian ocean ports.

Promise to “Uzbek partners”

Taliban spokesman Shahin assures that his associates, who have taken power in Afghanistan, will support the “Uzbek partners” in their endeavors. But judging by the actions of the Uzbek authorities, Tashkent is in no hurry to establish contacts with neighbors “across the river” (as the border between the republics of Central Asia and Afghanistan, passing along the Amu Darya and Pyanj rivers, was called in the past). The latest initiatives of the republic’s authorities are more likely associated with an attempt to protect themselves from the new masters of Kabul.

In early August, at a time when the Taliban were rapidly moving towards victory, the Uzbek army for the first time in a long time held joint exercises with the military from the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – from Russia and Tajikistan.

On the one hand, Uzbekistan is likely to agree to continue the implementation of beneficial infrastructure projects, because “it has a desire to enter South Asia, Pakistan,” said the Kyrgyz political scientist Mars Sariev. “Pakistan, which traditionally has a very strong influence on the Taliban, also welcomes the position of Uzbekistan in this regard,” the expert noted.

“On the other hand, it should be noted that the strengthening of Pakistan’s influence on Afghanistan means the strengthening of the pro-Pakistani and at the same time the most radical Taliban faction – the Haqqani Network,” Sariev said. And this cannot but worry the republics of Central Asia, the expert said. According to experts, some factions of the Taliban will fight against IS * and its “branches”, but Central Asia fears further chaos in Afghanistan after the flight of the Americans.

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

Recall that Afghanistan for a long time – in the 1990s and at least before the start of the American operation in this country – was the base for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU, banned in Russia), which participated in the civil war in Tajikistan, staged terrorist attacks in Kyrgyz cities, and in 1999 organized the invasion of jihadists through Tajikistan into southern Kyrgyzstan. On the basis of the IMU, the “Islamic Movement of Turkestan” was created (banned in the Russian Federation), which indicates the expansion of the claims of this terrorist group. In 2014, the IMU swore allegiance to the Islamic State *.

Recall that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speech at the Eastern Economic Forum noted that in the event of disintegration in Afghanistan “there will be no one to talk to.”

“And the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (banned in the Russian Federation), and what is there only in the territory of today’s Afghanistan, and all this threatens our allies and neighbors,

– pointed out the Russian leader. “And if you keep in mind that we have no visa restrictions, free movement actually across borders, this is very important for us, for Russia, from the point of view of ensuring our security.”

The recent participation of the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan for the first time in a long time in joint exercises with the military from the CSTO countries – Russia and Tajikistan – was dictated not by an attempt to demonstrate strength, but by the desire to prepare for a potential attack by the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, which has always looked in the direction of Uzbekistan. the newspaper VZGLYAD Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs Leonid Kalashnikov.

Tashkent is afraid not only of the Taliban

“Tashkent is afraid not only of the Taliban,” the deputy stressed. There are other Afghan groups that are ready to conduct military operations against Uzbekistan on its territory if they are loyally treated in Afghanistan itself. Therefore, Uzbekistan wants to deepen military cooperation with such serious allies as Russia and Kazakhstan. He needs to interact with us and to supply military equipment by Russia, ”the deputy explained.

It is not surprising that now Tashkent remembered the role of the CSTO in protecting Central Asia from threats from the south. The Collective Security Treaty was signed in 1992 in Tashkent, but since the late 90s Uzbekistan has preferred to participate in the pro-Western GUAM union, rather than in the “pro-Russian” CSTO. But against the backdrop of the situation in Afghanistan, Tashkent may return to the status of a full member of the organization, Andrei Grozin, head of the Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department of the Institute of CIS Countries , suggested in a comment to the Sputnik Tajikistan news agency in July . The return of the republic to the CSTO would strengthen this military alliance – given that Uzbekistan spends the most on equipping and rearming its 70,000-strong army in the Central Asian region (up to 4% of GDP goes to defense spending).

Since Uzbekistan is also concerned about the vulnerability of the southern border, Tashkent will step up cooperation with Moscow through the CSTO, Sariev predicts. True, the official entry of the republic into the military-political structure should not be expected, since this is impeded by the restrictions prescribed in Uzbek legislation, the expert added. But we note that no confirmed reports of Uzbekistan’s plans to return to the “pro-Russian” CSTO have yet been received.

Tashkent is not interested in a quarrel with Kabul

On the contrary, at the end of August, official Tashkent took a step that could be interpreted as not entirely friendly towards Moscow (and, possibly, friendly towards Kabul).  

President Mirziyoyev officially declared 115 members of the Basmach movement, who were repressed in the 1920s and 1930s, to be fighters for national independence. Among them – the major leader of the Basmachi Kurbashi Ibrahim-bek, who attacked the Soviet republics of Central Asia just from the territory of Afghanistan, was captured by the OGPU in 1931 and shot. “The decision of Uzbekistan to rehabilitate the Basmachi who fought with the Bolsheviks in the 1920s is anti-Soviet and partly, of course, anti-Russian,” said Vladimir Lepekhin, director of the EurAsEC Institute.

According to Central Asian experts, Tashkent is now at least not interested in a quarrel with the new authorities in Kabul. For example, on August 31, the American  Wall Street Journal  reported that the authorities of Uzbekistan, to whose territory a group of Afghan military pilots fled, are asking the United States to take these pilots to third countries as soon as possible in order to avoid confrontation with the Taliban movement.

Uzbekistan is placed in conditions under which it is forced to take care of both protection from the Taliban and building relations with them in order to maintain its own benefit, experts say. Sariev believes that it is not Uzbekistan that is now in the most vulnerable position, but Tajikistan, given that Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in the early 2000s supported the forces of the leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, an ethnic Tajik.

“The Taliban can now close their eyes to the fact that Islamist groups, militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, ISIS * and Al-Qaeda (banned in Russia) will begin to infiltrate Tajikistan,” the Kyrgyz expert said.

Tajikistan cannot afford to try multi-vector game

Thus, Tajikistan, as a country that has staked on a losing force in Afghanistan and as a country bound by the CSTO obligations, cannot afford to try the multi-vector game, which is being played by neighboring Uzbekistan. But, according to Lepekhin, at present the former Soviet republics in Asia have no choice but to demonstrate their loyalty to the Taliban. “A big game is beginning: not only Uzbekistan, but any other Central Asian republic will be forced to cooperate with the Taliban,” the expert said.

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