A group of representatives for Afghanistan’s Taliban militant organization last week wrapped up a visit to Uzbekistan, where they held talks with the Foreign Ministry.
The purpose of the talks appears to have been creating a dependable channel of communication between the Afghan militant group and Tashkent as Uzbekistan looks to advance major cross-border infrastructure projects.
The Taliban delegation, which was led by Doha-based Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai, was in the Uzbek capital for four days, up to August 10.
An Uzbek Foreign Ministry press release on the visit revealed little beyond stating that the talks were devoted to the peace process in Afghanistan. But the Taliban, as cited by Bangkok-based Asia Times, were a little more expansive, and explained that discussions covered “current and future national projects such as security for railroad and power lines.”
This ostensibly appeared to be a reference to projects to extend power and railway lines from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan. Doubts about the viability of such undertakings stem from concern that key infrastructure could be damaged in the event of a further intensification of conflict in near-border areas. The Taliban have targeted power infrastructure in the past.
The Taliban failed to turn up at an Afghanistan peace conference held in Tashkent in late March, casting doubt over the entire exercise. But Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry announced on June 18 that it had established high-level contacts with the militant group.
Political analyst Alisher Samigzhanov commended Uzbek officials on their effort to reach out to the Taliban.
“Afghanistan’s integration into major economic projects will accrue big dividends for Uzbekistan. But this is not possible without establishing contacts with the Taliban,” Samigzhanov said. “Uzbekistan can build infrastructure, railroads and highways if there is peace in Afghanistan. But what will the Taliban’s attitude be and what demands will they make? That is the main conundrum.”
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has emerged as a champion of opening up to Afghanistan. There is already a railroad linking Uzbekistan to Afghanistan, and the plan is to further develop that transportation link. Uzbekistan is also involved in building the 260-kilometer Surkhan-Pul-e-Khumri high-voltage power line.
The Asian Development Bank has pledged $70 million toward the final expected $150 million bill. Another $32 million is coming from Uzbekistan.
The power line will, among other things, enable the electrification of the the Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif railroad joining the two countries. Trains currently run on diesel. Switching over to electricity will help reduce the cost of transporting cargo.