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Uzbekistan takes lead in building peace in Afghanistan
March 24, 2018, 3:16 pm

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will open a high-level international conference on Afghanistan in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital on 26 to 27 of March. The conference, held under the banner of  'Peace Process, Cooperation in the Sphere of Security and Regional Interaction', will see delegates from across the region and from around the world gathering in Tashkent, specifically to confront the Afghanistan problem. The conference, co-hosted with the Afghan government, follows innumerable other efforts to breathe life into the peace process in Afghanistan.

"Uzbekistan put forward the idea to hold the Tashkent conference not just as a one-time event, but rather to put serious efforts both at the bilateral and multilateral levels to promote peaceful political process in Afghanistan," the Uzbek Foreign Ministry said

High-ranking officials expected to attend the event include UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres and the UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Turkey, India, Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

This gathering is perhaps more reflective of Uzbekistan's regional re-engagement than it is of specific conditions in Afghanistan. That said, there are countless variables to consider which make the moment right to keep pushing the idea of peace or at the very least keep interested parties talking: concerns about the rise of Islamic State in the region, US attention shifting from Syria back to Afghanistan and the impending increase in troops, particularly the economic impetus for settling the war.

The parties are expected to adopt a declaration setting out their shared vision with regard to peace in Afghanistan. A draft of the declaration features familiar language about an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace process and an emphasis on the importance of a political settlement. The draft includes language urging the Taliban and the Afghan government to begin direct talks and supporting a peace settlement that provides the Taliban a pathway into normal politics, predicated on a renunciation of violence and a pledge to respect the Afghan constitution. The draft also includes references to counter-terrorism and counter=narcotics efforts as well as regional economic cooperation — viewing them all as parts of achieving a comprehensive peace in the region.

The organizers acknowledge previous and ongoing efforts in tandem with the Tashkent conference, including the Kabul Process, which held its second meeting last month. Indeed, the last time Tashkent hosted a conference about peace in Afghanistan was the 6+2 Contact Group’s first meeting in July 1999. The group included Afghanistan’s direct neighbors — China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — plus the United States and Russia.

Bringing us back to the present, why is Uzbekistan only now re-engaging in the swirl of international diplomacy surrounding Afghanistan? Put simply: the time is right for Tashkent.

Central Asia broadly has made efforts over the last year to up its engagement with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan’s position shifted in particular after Karimiov’s death and the general opening of the country, in diplomatic terms at least, that came with the rise of current President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

There is a relevant regional economic calculus in Uzbek minds where Afghanistan in concerned. President Mirziyoyev’s big dreams of regional connectivity mean little without peace to the south. War in Afghanistan, even if it never spills over northward, creates concerns in the minds of investors.

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