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Monday Morning Meeting on The Recent Tashkent International Conference on Afghanistan

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  • August 01, 2022
    Monday Morning Meeting
    1000 hrs

    Mr. Vishal Chandra, Research Fellow, Manohar Parrikar IDSA spoke on ‘The Recent Tashkent International Conference on Afghanistan’ at the Monday Morning Meeting held on 1 August 2022 at 10 AM. The meeting was moderated by Dr. Ashok K. Behuria, Senior Fellow, MP-IDSA.

    Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA, Maj.Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA and the scholars of the Institute participated in the meeting.

    Executive Summary

    During the meeting, the speaker shared his observations as a participant in the Tashkent International Conference on ‘Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development’ held on 26 July 2022. He highlighted the key observations made by the special representatives/speakers from various participant countries, including the Taliban delegation from Afghanistan, and international organisations.

    Most of the speakers emphasised the need for continued humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and unfreezing of Afghan reserves, and called upon the Taliban to form an inclusive government, restore secondary education for girls and respect the rights of all Afghan citizens, create a conducive environment for trade and investment, and to not allow terrorist groups to operate from the Afghan soil. 

    Highlighting the achievements of the Taliban interim government, the Taliban representative pointed to the general amnesty announced for members of the previous regime and efforts made for the return of Afghans from exile.

    Detailed Report

    The Monday Morning Meeting began with moderator Dr. Ashok K. Behuria providing an overview of the current geo-strategic situation in the region since the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. He stressed that the ethnic divisions that emerged in the Taliban were due to the distrust by the minority ethnic groups (Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks) of the Pashtun dominant nature of the Taliban. Though the representation of ethnic minorities is visible in the state apparatus, their presence and powers are limited. He gave the example of the current Taliban Chief of Staff, Qari Fasihuddin Fitrat, being an ethnic Tajik. The claim of the Taliban as an inclusive and sole power in Afghanistan is also being questioned.

    In continuation to the moderator’s remarks, Mr. Vishal Chandra began his presentation by highlighting the increased tension in northern parts of the country and along Afghanistan’s borders, with Pakistan on the Durand Line in the east, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the north, and Iran in the west. He added that there have been skirmishes between the Taliban and the Pakistani forces in the east and the Iranian forces in the west.  

    Elaborating on Uzbekistan’s initiative to bring participants from more than 20 countries and various regional and international organisations (UN & its various agencies including UNAMA, the EU, ECO, SCO and the OIC) together to discuss the issue of Afghan stability and regional connectivity, the speaker stated that the current conference was projected as the logical continuation of the previous two High-Level Tashkent Conferences: ‘Afghanistan: Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Connectivity’, held in March 2018, and ‘Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities’, held in July 2021. He added that Uzbekistan has had a history of taking initiatives on the Afghan issue, be it the ‘Six-Plus-Two’ grouping in the late 1990s, comprising Afghanistan’s six immediate neighbours plus Russia and the US, or the ‘Six-Plus-Three’ grouping a decade later, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) added to it.

    According to Mr. Chandra, the stated goal of the July 26 Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan was to establish a solidary and effective international dialogue on the Afghan issue, to assist in the formation of a common position on issues of regional stability and international terrorism, and build a constructive dialogue with the neighbouring countries and the current authorities of Afghanistan. He added that the conference was projected as an integral part of a systemic effort of Uzbekistan to ensure security and stability in the Central Asian region and turn Afghanistan into a peaceful country free from terrorism.

    Mr. Chandra shared the details of the discussions held during the Plenary Session.

    Plenary Session

    The plenary session began with Acting Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Vladimir Norov delivering the inaugural remarks and President’s Special Representative Abdulaziz Kamilov reading out President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s address, followed by speeches of special representatives/ heads of delegations from the participating countries and regional and international organisations. 

    The Taliban Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi led a large delegation comprising senior officials from the finance, interior and foreign ministries, the Afghan Central Bank, Afghan National Power Utility (or DABS) and the Afghan Railways. No other Afghan group participated in the conference.

    Among the key participants were UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative Markus Potzel, OIC Secretary General’s Special Envoy Tarig Ali Bakhreet, Secretary General of ECO Khusrav Noziri, EU Special Envoy Tomas Niklasson, Chinese Special Envoy Yue Xiaoyong, US Special Representative Thomas West, US Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, Russian Special Representative Zamir Kabulov, Pakistan’s Special Representative Mohammad Sadiq, Iranian Special Envoy Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, Qatar Foreign Minister’s Special Envoy Mutlaq Bin Majed Al Qahtani, Kazakh Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador-at-Large Talgat Kaliyev, Kyrgyz President’s Special Representative Taalatbek Masadykov, Turkmenistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vepa Khadzhiev, Tajikistan’s National Coordinator for Afghanistan Vafo Niyatbekzoda, British Prime Minister’s Special Representative Nigel Casey, and Director of SCO RATS Ruslan Mirzaev. The American delegation also included officials from the Treasury Department and the State Department. India was represented by Ambassador Manish Prabhat.

    In President Mirziyoyev’s message, it was stated that without stability on the other bank of Amu Darya (Afghanistan), it is impossible to achieve security and stable development in the entire Central Asian region. He expressed hope that the international community will not repeat the mistakes of the 1990s as the international isolation of Afghanistan will inevitably lead to further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country.

    Many participants emphasised the history of Afghanistan and said that unless a broad-based government that represents the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the country is formed, it will be difficult to establish a sustainable political order and security in the country.

    The US Special Representative Thomas West stated that the US remains the largest donor to Afghanistan, including after August 2021. He informed that the US Government is closely working with the stakeholders and has not imposed any new sanctions on Afghanistan in the last 11 months. He also said that the dialogue is going on with the Taliban officials for unfreezing of Afghan Central Bank reserves.

    Key Observations Made by Conference Speakers

    • Isolating or abandoning Afghanistan and its people will prove counter-productive. The international community must continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.
    • Humanitarian aid and assistance while critical to the stability of Afghanistan is not a long-term solution. The resumption of trade and investment is critical to the revival of the Afghan economy.
    • Representatives from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and other regional countries called for unfreezing of Afghan central bank reserves.  
    • Taliban must form an inclusive government, representing the social diversity of the country, and put an end to arbitrary detentions and extra-judicial killings.
    • Taliban must allow girls to attend secondary schools. The exclusion of half of the country’s workforce, the Afghan women, will only make it difficult for the donor countries to justify the grant of aid and assistance.
    • Taliban need to create a conducive environment for the return of all Afghans and the resumption of the much-needed international investment.
    • Taliban must sever their ties with regional and global terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. The increased activity of Islamic State Khorasan (ISK) is an issue of grave concern.
    • Response to the situation in Afghanistan has to be collective and sustainable, keeping in view the larger interest of all sections of the Afghan population.

    Key Points Made by Taliban Interim Foreign Minister

    • During the short period of 11 months, the Taliban Government has managed to establish security and provide basic services to the people. Corruption has been completely rooted out.
    • The Taliban leadership has laid the ground for a culture of tolerance and acceptance by declaring a general amnesty for all political and military opposition. Thousands of officials from the previous regime are working in the government departments.  
    • About 100,000 youth have been recruited into the army and 180,000 into the police.
    • A contact group has been established to facilitate the return of officials of the previous administration.
    • The government has successfully reopened universities and schools across the country and has announced 7,000 new vacancies in the education sector.
    • Women continue to work in education, health and other government departments.
    • The government is committed to not allowing any terrorist group, including Daesh or the Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), to use Afghan soil against any other country. 
    • The government stands ready to establish positive relations with all the countries in the framework of mutual respect and legitimate bilateral interests.
    • The US must unconditionally release all reserves of the Afghan Central Bank and the international community must begin official engagement with the ‘Islamic Emirate’.
    • Afghanistan is the closest and cheapest trade route between Central and South Asia. It is time to invest in Afghanistan’s stability.
    • The delivery of humanitarian assistance has been completely transparent and the government budget for the first time completely relies on the revenue generated from within the country.

    At the end of the plenary session, Muttaqi once again responded to the points raised by various speakers. Some of the key points made by him are: 

    • Afghanistan’s budget is extremely transparent and for the first time it is fully reliant on state revenues and not on any external source.
    • The Taliban Government will continue to make progress on security and human rights issues.
    • The Taliban Government has banned narcotics but no country or organisation has come forward to help the government with alternative livelihoods for the affected Afghan people.
    • About 18,000 Daesh militants were released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison when the Taliban entered Kabul. The Taliban security forces have since made good progress against them.   
    • The Taliban Government has not only announced an amnesty for all but also retained thousands of employees from the previous regime.
    • Any support for the Resistance Front is support for the destabilisation of Afghanistan.
    • Afghanistan is the Heart of Asia and if it is peaceful then Asia is peaceful.
    • Political issues should not be linked to aid and assistance for the Afghan people.

    Mr. Chandra highlighted what transpired during the Parallel Sessions held at the Conference.

    Parallel Sessions

    After the plenary session, the conference was divided into parallel sessions on Uzbekistan’s humanitarian and proposed infrastructure projects on Afghanistan. Mr. Chandra attended the session on humanitarian projects. The entire focus of that session was on (i) Termez Educational Centre for the Training of Afghan Citizens, and (ii) Termez Cargo Centre (upgraded to the status of an International Multi-Functional Transport & Logistics Hub for Humanitarian Assistance), both established by the Uzbekistan Government. Various short and long-term courses are offered to the Afghan citizens at the Termez Training Centre. The Termez Logistics Hub is being used by the UN and its agencies to send humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. 

    The focus of the parallel session on infrastructure was on the Uzbekistan-proposed 700-km Trans-Afghanistan Railway Project (connecting Uzbekistan to Pakistan, via Afghanistan) and the 500-kV Surkhan-Pul-e-Khumri Power Transmission Project in northern Afghanistan. However, there was not much clarity about the funding of these two projects. 

    Questions and Comments

    Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, congratulated the speaker for his participation in such an important event. He pointed out the reasons for Uzbekistan facilitating such regional and global events. Uzbekistan has a sense of its relevance and importance in the region. It has the largest population and the biggest economy in Central Asia and also has stable relations with its neighbours. Uzbekistan has a record of working well with all in the region.

    The US seems to be ready to give some concession to the Taliban in exchange for certain US demands. He stressed that the Taliban regime will be there and is not going anywhere soon. There will be differences among various groups within the regime, creating space for others to step in. Taliban will have issues on its border as it identifies itself with the nation and that translates into boundaries. The same boundaries that the Taliban earlier transgressed would now be the ones they would protect and would not want other elements to do what they did in the past.  The Islamic State and its Khorasan affiliate would be a concern for the Taliban. India has to engage with the region and with the stakeholders.

    Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi, (Retd.) stated that Europe particularly is not interested in the happenings in Afghanistan. The reasons for this are, firstly, they do not want to recognise the legitimacy of the Taliban and, secondly, there is pre-occupation with the Ukrainian refugees. The Central Asian nations, including Uzbekistan, are discussing the idea of connectivity from Central Asia to South Asia. This is of importance to India in the long run, particularly projects like the TAPI (Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India) gas pipeline.

    Mr. Vishal Chandra, the speaker, gave detailed and insightful replies in response to comments and questions received from the participants of the meeting.

    The Report was prepared by Mr. Afroz Khan, Research Assistant, MP-IDSA.