After several months of negotiations US and Talibans signed the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”, which would represent a significant step towards ending a long period of war and instability.
Although some doubts remain about the capacity and will of Talibans to comply with the main terms of the deal – mainly to start a dialogue with the current Afghan government – Afghanistan’s potential pacification will also have a positive impact on Central Asia, especially for the three bordering countries (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan).
Indeed, we can observe that in recent years the Taliban leadership has expressed reassuring political positions towards Central Asiatic countries. Firstly, Talibans aim at achieving national goals (the creation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) and they do not have extra-territorial ambitions to extend their power in the neighbouring countries. Consequently, they are already engaged to fight against terrorist groups linked to Daesh and Al Qaeda, aiming at achieving transnational goals such as the realization of an Islamic Caliphate: this is one of the key-points of the deal with US, while for Central Asian republics the spread of terrorist incursions from Afghanistan to their territories is still perceived as the main threat to their domestic stability.
Secondly, Talibans are oriented to fully support and to ensure protection to the infrastructure and industrial projects that are programmed for the country, including the TAPI gas pipeline (which should deliver natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India crossing Afghanistan), CASA-1000 (an electricity transmission project from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and South-East Asia), roads and railway lines aimed at increasing regional connectivity and cooperation [Tariq Saeedi, “Taliban and Central Asia – Part 2”, News Central Asia, March 5, 2020].
In the last years the idea to involve Talibans in Afghanistan’s peace process has been strongly promoted by Uzbek President Mirziyoyev: in 2018 Tashkent hosted a Taliban delegation to discuss about security in the region, asking their engagement to ensure protection of the existent cross-border infrastructure (and future projects) such as railways and power lines [“Taliban holds talks in Uzbekistan”, Eurasianet, August 13, 2018].
Uzbekistan has a strategic interest to promote Afghanistan’s integration within a wider framework of regional integration: as a matter of fact, Uzbekistan is the only Central Asian country that has a railway link with Afghanistan (the Termez-Hairaton-Mazar I Sharif line) that should be extended to Iran in order to reach the seaports along the Persian Gulf, offering a promising trade outlet for this double-landlocked country.
For Turkmenistan, Taliban’s actual commitment to provide security for the national segment of the TAPI pipeline will mean a real possibility to diversify its export energy routes.
Central Asian states are carefully monitoring the concrete engagement of Talibans in the Afghanistan peace process, because a successful transition will contribute to strengthening security and economic integration in the region.
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PhD holder in Geopolitics at University of Trieste and non-resident fellow research at Center for Energy Governance and Security (EGS South Korea).