Afghan track of U.S.-Uzbek cooperation

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Afghan track of U.S.-Uzbek cooperation

The United States applauds Uzbek reforms and their positive impact on all of Central Asia, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said at a meeting with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov. The Uzbek Foreign Minister arrived in Washington to participate in negotiations on the development of trade, economic, financial and investment relations. His visit will last until July 23.

"During the discussion of cooperation on the Afghan issue, the American side noted the important role of Uzbekistan in launching mechanisms for peaceful inter-Afghan dialogue, social-economic rehabilitation of Afghanistan, and its involvement in multidimensional regional relations in Central Asia," the press service of the Uzbek foreign ministry said in a statement, noting that "the sides exchanged views on the current state of Uzbek-American relations and prospects for their further development."

"Excellent meeting today with Uzbekistan’s FM Kamilov.  We discussed a wide range of common interests and how to best advance our partnership. We applaud Uzbek reforms and their positive impact on all of Central Asia and look forward to deepening U.S.-Uzbek cooperation." Bolton wrote on Twitter.

A new impetus to the U.S.-Uzbek cooperation was given in May last year, when President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited the United States and signed a series of agreements totaling $5 billion. It was a follow-up to the dialogue between the U.S. and Uzbekistan started 16 years ago - a declaration on strategic partnership between the two countries was signed in 2002. That was a long time ago. There have been - some ups and downs in the relations between the U.S. and Uzbekistan. President Mirziyoyev's visit changed the situation. Then they said that "a new era of strategic partnership between the United States and Uzbekistan was beginning," director of the non-state scientific and educational institution 'Bilim Karvoni' (Caravan of Knowledge) Farhod Tolipov told Vestnik Kavkaza.

One of the areas was the U.S.-Uzbekistan cooperation on Afghanistan. "Now it’s hot time in Afghanistan. On the one hand, the United States cannot solve the magic equation of withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, on the other hand, reconcile the Taliban with the Kabul government, find an ideal model. On the third hand, the presidential election are approaching in Afghanistan. This is a difficult time not only for the Islamic Republic. All this, together, makes the issue of Afghanistan relevant both for U.S. foreign policy and for Uzbekistan’s foreign policy," Tolipov noted.

He recalled that by the time Mirziyoyev was elected Uzbek president, the position on Afghanistan had been modified. If former President Islam Karimov was inclined to pursue an isolationist policy toward a troubled neighbor, the current head of state says that Afghanistan should not be viewed as a source of threats, but as a country of new opportunities for cooperation. Tashkent’s position was noted and supported at the international level. This is evidenced by the Tashkent Declaration adopted in May 2018 following the results of the international conference. Therefore, the role of Uzbekistan in solving the Afghan problem is becoming noteworthy.

"The United States will support Uzbekistan's involvement in Afghanistan. Washington adheres to the principle of strengthening the role of regional states and neighbors of Afghanistan. Once Turkey had even developed a special model of relations - the 'Heart of Asia', which implied the active involvement of Afghanistan’s neighbors in the region in restoring peace. This suggests that very important changes are coming in Afghanistan, and the United States is paying great attention to them," Tolipov believes.

Director of the Tashkent Center for Research Initiatives 'Ma'no' Bakhtiyor Ergashev also believes that the issue of regional security is on the agenda of the U.S.-Uzbek relations. "Afghanistan is very important for Uzbekistan, first of all, as a frontier country, which should become less problematic for the whole of Central Asia in terms of transit, drugs and terrorists. We need a stable Afghanistan that controls the territory and all those present there. Uzbekistan is interested in Afghanistan in economic terms. Uzbekistan's economic reforms are aimed at ensuring its growth, becoming an export-oriented country. The $30 million Afghan market is capacious, despite the official poverty. Uzbekistan wants to enter it, and has already begun to explore northern Afghanistan," Bakhtiyor Ergashev told Vestnik Kavkaza.

Tashkent is the main initiator of transport corridors through the territory of Afghanistan. The project of the transport corridor from  Mazar-e-Sharif to Iran and further to the Chabahar Port, built and developed by India, is taking an ever more concrete form. Ergashev stressed that this road is very important for Uzbekistan. Work is underway in other areas as well.

"Afghanistan is important for us in all aspects and it is clear that now the U.S. has the most influence on the Afghan government, being a serious player in Afghanistan. Considering this fact, let's understand the position of Uzbekistan - we need Afghanistan, which will start at least some stabilization processes and normalization of the situation. At the same time, the role of the United States is very important. Tashkent negotiates with the player who has the greatest influence in Afghanistan. Tashkent solves its tasks using the possibilities and interests of the United States. And it's a mutual interest. It is not only an attempt by Uzbekistan to build a dialogue with the U.S. on Afghanistan, but the U.S. desire to exploit the potential of Uzbekistan in order to solve at least some of the problems on the Afghan track. The U.S. understands Uzbekistan's opportunities and potential in this direction," the expert stressed.

But not by Afghanistan alone. The United States is beginning to work actively with Uzbekistan in the economic field. In Washington, the Uzbek delegation presents the investment potential of Uzbekistan to American businessmen. The Uzbekistan Capital Market Opportunities investment forum will be held in New York. But the thing is that the U.S. have to integrate into the Uzbek market, which have been divided between Russian and Chinese companies.

The United States offers Uzbekistan in the framework of the Trump program the export of American products: Boeing, pharmaceuticals, IT. But as Bakhtiyor Ergashev noted, all proposals require serious study. Big breaks, in his opinion, should not be expected here. Trade turnover will increase, investments will come, but they will not reach the volumes of China and Russia.