Central Asia warms-up to Afghanistan

The Central Asian region is restructuring its boundaries and states continuously. The dominant members of the region Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan made a declaration to include Kazakhstan as a part of the region lately. In another such renewed drive, the regional bigwigs have opened the doors to Afghanistan to be a part of Central Asia. The region has engaged Afghanistan across many peripherals which is essential for Afghanistan to be seen as a normal economy. Both Central Asia and Afghanistan need to come together to deal effectively with the hegemonic powers like Russia, China and Pakistan. The partnership can also help demand balanced approach by the major influencers like US, India, EU and also Turkey. However, it will be vital to see effective implementation of all the projects which are so taken up do not end up like the fate of TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline which saw everything materialise but gas.

The linking of Afghanistan to Central Asia holds great strategic significance as it will open a northern route to Afghanistan to enter Central Asia via Azerbaijan and finally to Europe. This route will act as a great motivation for Pakistan and Iran to foster their security and also develop infrastructure while engaging in an export of rich mineral resources of Afghanistan worth $3 trillion. This route will also give Afghanistan more leverage in its talks with Pakistan over its terrorist sanctuaries. Thus, it is a completely win-win situation for Afghanistan as it will open the minds of Afghans towards more prosperous realities in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan etc.

Central Asian nations are primarily multiethnic as the common point of reference for configuration of the region was the Soviet Union which had divided people of the region by putting borders in places and also erecting a north-south transportation system which led to Moscow ultimately. Afghanistan also enjoys similar multicultural status as it is home to many Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turks etc. The Constitution of Afghanistan also recognises Uzbek as the official language. Thus, the region which is divided by the Amu Darya will be easily integrated due to many commonalities both in terms of language and culture.

Which nations first and why?

The Central Asian nations with rich natural resources like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan will probably in the lead to engage with Afghans. Kazakhstan and Afghanistan have shared better trade ties since 2015 and a joint transit company was established to make enhance trade between the two. Kazakhstan has been actively providing developmental assistance, military medical facilities and even Explosive Ordinance Disposal Units to Kabul. The nation along with Uzbekistan had also given continuous support when the US had requested for shipping military equipment. Even in case of Uzbekistan, Tashkent drastically upgraded its ties with many neighbouring countries after the death of Islam Karimov, the long-term leader. Uzbekistan took on a proactive role in the country as it offered strong backing for the National Unity Government to hold direct talks with Taliban with no preconditions. Tashkent had also given a proposal to hold peace talks between Kabul and Taliban.

Uzbekistan thus wants to renew its previous efforts where it had completed rail-line from Termez to Mazar-i-Shariff with help of Asian Development Bank. The rail line is responsible for half the imports of the country at present. Uzbekistan had promised a $500 million for constructing a 657km rail link from Mazar-i-Shariff to Herat near the Iran and Turkmenistan borders. In addition, Uzbekistan is also set to start work on the 260-km Surkhan-Pul-e-Khumri line for enhancing the electricity exports to Afghanistan by 70 percent. President Mirziyoyev has also slashed the rates at which electricity will be delivered to Afghanistan to $ 0.05 KW from $0.076 KW. Both the nations have also inked more than 20 bilateral agreements in many areas.

Although the big infrastructure projects get the maximum attention, the cooperation in everyday areas like family, law, education etc. The project of Tashkent State University of Law for becoming the hub of legal studies in Central Asia is one such project in the same light. It has the wide range of student enrolments from countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Azerbaijan etc. It has extended its plans to enrol Afghan students as well.

Trade and Tolerance

The Central Asian economies look for safeguarding their sovereignty against hegemonic powers who take the region for granted as a zone free of consequence to contest rivalries. Thus, a continuous and robust effort is thus needed to keep Russia at bay along with Pakistan. The nations also need to build a strong defence against both Saudi Arabia and Iran that the latter do not indulge in any collision on Central Asian lands. The leaders also need to become alive to the fact that Chinese Belt and Road Initiative does land them in a creditor imperialism trap. There has been an uneven contribution of the international community in Afghanistan and thus encouraging the participation of neighbours which share more cultural and social affinities in growth will offer a brighter future for the nation.

The US as a responsible superpower has to support the right for self-determination of Afghanistan. It should be supportive and encourage work-groups like Uzbek-Afghan Joint Security Commission, good governance, infrastructure development etc.



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