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Uzbekistan revitalizes the Afghanistan peace process

By Manabhanjan Meher

Uzbekistan has always been an integral part of ongoing peace processes such as the Kabul process, Moscow regional consultations, Heart of Asia-Istanbul process, and Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA)to resolve the Afghan problems.During his speech at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev stressed that peace in Afghanistan is essential for ensuring security in Central Asia and the world as a whole. He stated that “Stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan is an important condition to ensure not only regional but global security, as well. We are convinced that the only way to peace in Afghanistan is a direct dialogue among the central government and main domestic political forces without preconditions. The negotiations should be Afghan-led on the territory of Afghanistan and under the auspices of the United Nations.”[1] Hence, the peace process in Afghanistan must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and in accordance with the provisions of resolutions and decisions of the UN General Assembly and Security Councilwhere Afghan people should be involved in this process.

To that end, President of Uzbekistan  Shavkat Mirziyoyev  jointly with the Afghan side organized a high-level international conference on Afghanistan, entitled “Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Connectivity” on March 26-27, 2018 in Tashkent, where both leaders delivered their keynote speeches at the opening ceremony. Addressing the Conference, Mirziyoyev agreed that “we stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange on the territory of Uzbekistan the direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban movement.”[2] Similarly, Afghan President Ghani retaliated that “Inclusion of Taliban through a political process in the fabric of society and polity will enable national, international and regional energies to focus on the threats of terror and criminality.”[3]

However, the participants which include representatives from more than 20 nations and organisations but not the Taliban, the main stake-holder in Afghan conflicts. The Taliban remains the most powerful insurgent group in Afghanistan.Foreign Ministry of Uzbekistan reported that representatives of the Taliban group did not make any application to attend the March 26-27, 2018 meeting in Tashkent.[4]Meanwhile, the statement released by Taliban leadership on March 30, 2018 denounced the peace conference in Tashkent as “the semi-recognized group sometimes presents a variety of proposals in the garb of Peace. Other times they strive to find legitimacy against the Jihad by using the name of religious scholars and every now and then congregate sessions like Tashkent Conference for show in order to legitimize the American invasion under the name of peace.”[5] At the same time, the Taliban retaliated that NATO forces must withdraw before negotiations begin.

Uzbekistan which shares a relatively 210-kilometre-long border with Afghanistan has been the main target of the region’s Islamic insurgency since mid-1990s. Uzbekistan government is particularly worried by the activities of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and its determination to transform secular Uzbekistan into an Islamic caliphate ruled from the Fergana Valley. Further, it has been reported that IMU has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014.[6] Instability in Afghanistan has extremely destructive consequences for the neighbouring countries, including the countries of Central Asia.The upsurge in Taliban operations shows that the counterterrorist coalition has so far failed to achieve its original aims. Besides the Taliban, the activities of Islamic State (ISIL) were also challenging for the security institutions of the country. The most dangerous threat is the spread of Islamist organizations, and the increase in illegal drug trafficking in the region.Given this vulnerability, Uzbekistan desires that Afghanistan remains peaceful and stable.

It is symbolic that more than 25 years ago, back in 1993 at the 48thsession of the UN General Assembly, Uzbekistan called for an immediate settlement of the Afghan problem. President Karimov warned that “there is hardly any basis today on which to talk about sufficient attention being paid to the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border in the light of the current situation in Tajikistan as well as in Afghanistan. We have not understood the scale and potential of this conflict and its globally devastating consequences. I should like to take this opportunity to appeal to participants in this session of the General Assembly to express their constructive views on ways of solving this problem.”[7] Subsequently, Tashkent proposed a “6+2” format of negotiation in 1998, which included the six neighbours of Afghanistan and the two great, extra-regional powers – the US and Russia. According to this concept, a diplomatic forum of “neighbours and friends” of Afghanistan should regularly meet and discuss avenues and ways of ending the protracted conflict on the ground and mechanisms for establishing peace. It implied, among other things, that the two warring sides in the Afghan civil war of the mid-to late 1990s, would talk face to face in order to reach some form of agreement.

The first “6+2” talks were held on 19thJuly, 1999 in Tashkent, with the Tashkent Declaration  adopted on 22ndJuly, 1999. The United Nation Security Council backed the declaration in 1999, officially known as the Declaration on the Fundamental Principles for a Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict in Afghanistan (DFPPSCA). Its goals include not providing weapons or military support to any group in Afghanistan. A few meetings that include all members and representatives from the Northern Alliance and Taliban were held in Tashkent. This format of negotiations existed from 1999 until 2001, but was interrupted immediately following the events of September 11, 2001, thus undermining these attempts to establish a cooperative format to ensure the resolution of the Afghan conflict. Based on this positive experience, in 2008 Uzbekistan initiated the revival of that framework under UN auspices by including NATO. Moreover, this proposal of Uzbekistan did not work out because Russia opposed six-plus-three in 2008 as it believed NATO involvement might provide the United States too much influence. Further, this initiative did not find the necessary support among the other actors.

From the early days of his leadership of the country, PresidentShavkat Mirziyoyev has gradually improved its relations with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan undertook the responsibility for organizing the high-level conference in Tashkent. This summit also comes as the immediate aftermath peace offer Ghani laid out to the Taliban whereby the Afghan government announced unconditional peace in a bid to bring the Taliban to the table for peace talks.  The recent Tashkent Conference is based on a new format of cooperation named Central Asia + Afghanistan (“C5 + 1”) and designed to discuss specific areas of interaction between the five Central Asian nations – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – and Afghanistan. According to the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, at the initiative of the United Nations, the foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan held at meeting in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in December 2017.[8] Relying on United Nations, the Central Asian countries trying to improve their relations and to cooperate in the field of security.

Despite of their initiatives, the Central Asian countries including Uzbekistan do not have the great potential for resolving the conflict in Afghanistan. In the past couple of years, there have been several international conferences held on this theme which not only included the neighbouring countries but the major powers as well which have significant role in the development of peace and stability in Afghanistan. Yet, there was no progress in that regard, resulting in the further suffering of Afghan civilians.

The peace process should be activated to achieve consensus between confronting parties. Until and unless the Taliban leadership accept the legitimacy of Afghan Government as well as 17-years old Constitution, it would be impossible to have the peace talks initiated in near future.

References:

[1]Shavkat Mirziyoyev (2017), “Address by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the General Debate of 72nd Session of UN General Assembly”, September 20, 2017, http://tashkenttimes.uz/national/1449-address-by-president-shavkat-mirziyoyev-at-the-general-debate-of-72nd-session-of-un-general-assembly

[2]Shavkat Mirziyoyev (2018), “Address by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the International Conference on Afghanistan «peace process, security cooperation and regional connectivity»”, 27 march 2018,https://mfa.uz/en/press/news/2018/03/14328/

[3]Ashraf Ghani (2018), “Remarks By HE President Ashraf Ghani On The Occasion Of The Tashkent Conference”, March 26, 2018, https://president.gov.af/en/speech/remarks-by-he-president-ashraf-ghani-on-the-occasion-of-the-tashkent-conference/

[4]Taliban likely to miss Afghan peace conference in Tashkent – Uzbek foreign ministry, 2018-03-12, http://tashkenttimes.uz/national/2141-taliban-likely-to-miss-afghan-peace-conference-in-tashkent-uzbek-foreign-ministry

[5]Objectives behind Peace Sit-ins, March 30, 2018, https://alemarah-english.com/?p=27157

[6]Damon Mehl(2015), “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the Islamic State”, JUNE 2015, VOLUME 8, ISSUE 6, https://ctc.usma.edu/the-islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-opens-a-door-to-the-islamic-state/

[7]Islam A. Karimov (1993), “Address by Mr. Islam a. Karimov, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan”, General Assembly Forty-Eighth Session, Wednesday, 28 September 1993, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/48/PV.6

[8]Central Asia – Afghanistan dialogue format to be created, December 12, 2017, http://tashkenttimes.uz/world/1793-central-asia-afghanistan-dialogue-format-to-be-created

Manabhanjan Meher is a Research Assistant at the Europe and Eurasia Centre, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. 

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