|Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov|
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has indicated creating a "zone of stability, steady development and good neighborliness" in Central Asia as a priority in his foreign policy. This, according to the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Korea, played a significant role for the bilateral negotiations between the United States and the Taliban in February. The following is the third and last in a series of written Q&As with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov about Uzbekistan's vision of the major aspects of political settlement in Afghanistan and its contribution to ensuring regional security. ― ED.
Q: If everything which you are speaking about will become a reality, then for the first time in 40 years we will see long-awaited peace in Afghanistan. What is the future of this country in your opinion?
A: You have already said it ― first, it will be peaceful. This must become a common idea for consolidating the entire Afghan society, all ethnic groups and political movements. Second, it must be formed as a solid all-nation government capable of effectively addressing the tasks in the sphere of security and economy.
Afghanistan must transform into a platform for effective regional cooperation.
I have already said that today's Afghanistan, unfortunately, still remains a venue for geopolitical standoff and competition of the world and regional powers. In Uzbekistan we believe that this approach must be changed.
Afghanistan gives all of us a chance to learn to find a common language, conjugate national interests, seek compromises and achieve mutual understanding.
Then it will be possible to make Afghanistan an equal partner for all neighboring countries in ensuring sustainable development, security and stability of our common region.
It won't be possible to achieve peace in Afghanistan without recovering the economy and addressing social problems of the population. It is important to continue investing in the economic future of Afghanistan. One must not allow for reduction of financing humanitarian programs and projects.
On its part, Uzbekistan has already embarked upon implementing the large-scale infrastructure and socially significant projects in Afghanistan such as construction of the electricity power line "Surkhan ― Pulee-Khumri" and others.
This power line will switch Kabul into one energy system of Central Asia. Moreover, the electricity power line "Surkhan ― Pulee-Khumri" may become an integral part of the CASA-1000 project and promote supplies of electric power to Pakistan and further onwards to the countries of South Asia.
Uzbekistan is interested in implementing the transport-logistical projects which will allow drawing Afghanistan into regional integration.
Our country also stands ready along with the government of Afghanistan and other international partners to participate in implementation of the railroad transport projects "Mazari-Sharif ― Herat" and "Mazari-Sharif ― Peshawar" which will connect Central and South Asia.
The railroad project, which connects Mazari-Sharif with seaports of Pakistan, may become a part of the Eurasian concept of interconnectedness which is now being endorsed by the European Union.
Moreover, launching of this route will ensure the shortest access of the states of Central Asia to Pakistani seaports of Gwadar and Karachi, and will promote stirring up transit of goods further to India and Bangladesh.
In this regard, I also deem it necessary to note the words of the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani at the solemn event on the occasion of launching the first cargo train from Afghanistan to China through the territory of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan: "I want to express sincere gratitude to my big friend President Shavkat Mirziyoyev for the support to the people and government of Afghanistan along the path of recovery and development of the country."
I believe this is the highest appreciation on behalf of the Afghan people of Uzbekistan's efforts in terms of rendering practical assistance to the recovery of Afghanistan's economic infrastructure.
It is important to remember that full-scale peaceful life in the country is impossible without ensuring access to education.
It is an open secret that during the war an entire generation who saw little but violence, grew up in Afghanistan.
One should give young Afghans the opportunity of another destiny, shape prestige of education in the society, which will be able to confront the ideas of hatred and extremism. Uzbekistan is also actively working in this direction. On the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev the Educational center for Afghan nationals was established in the city of Termez.
The next enrollment in line is now underway. Nearly 200 people will be studying at the Center on preferential terms in 2020. In the future we are planning to increase the number of students up to 300 and expand the curriculum.
Besides, the leader of Uzbekistan has proposed to institute a special International Fund to Support Education in Afghanistan. The main goal of the Fund is to educate the youth for the specialties needed in Afghanistan, allocate scholarships and educational grants for the talented students and young scholars.
As a sign of friendly gesture Tashkent actively allocates full-scale humanitarian aid to Kabul. We comprehend our huge responsibility before the brotherly Afghan people and will further act in this direction.
Q: Speaking about long-term development of Afghanistan after a peace agreement ― during the so-called "post-peace period," what will be the priorities of Uzbekistan's Afghan policy?
A: Uzbekistan is absolutely sincere in conducting its Afghan policy. We don't have political goals or hidden motives in relation with this country. We are guided by a very simple and pragmatic principle: if there is peace in a neighbor's house, then there is a peace in yours. Moreover, we are convinced that our common home is Central Asia, an inseparable part of which is Afghanistan, as well. Only by concerted efforts will we be able to develop successfully.
This is our main and ultimate goal. We didn't have other goals. We have always kept to a neutral position. We didn't interfere in domestic affairs of Afghanistan.
As a result, Uzbekistan is enjoying deserved authority and trust among all Afghan political forces, including the Taliban movement. All of them recognize and support Uzbekistan's sincere wish to promote peace in Afghanistan.
At the moment, the issue to draw Taliban to the future governance of the country is one of the most acute issues. Uzbekistan was one of the first, back in 1999, to establish and maintain contact with the Taliban Movement. Not everyone shared such a position.
The Taliban, while being a part of Afghan society and citizens of Afghanistan, must take part in defining the future of their country.
In the context of the newest history we perceive the current dialogue with the Taliban Movement as a resumption and strengthening of the multilateral peace process, which Uzbekistan attempted to maintain in the 1990s in the framework of the 6+2 format. Back then our representatives met with leaders of the Taliban in Kandahar.
In this regard, I want to draw attention to the following.
We believe that major mistake of the 2001 Bohn conference on Afghanistan was that Taliban wasn't involved in the negotiations on peaceful recovery of the country. As a result, the war has never stopped for 18 years.
At present, as much as then, there is still a common task, i.e. to put in place inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue to gradually and patiently seek consensus everywhere where it is possible.
In this context, the dialogue with Taliban is not only an expedient one, but simply necessary.
However, starting any peace process supposes denial by Taliban movement of any forms of terrorist activity and violence, mandatory observance of ceasefire regime, which in its essence is envisaged by the agreement signed with the United States.
Q: What other resources does Uzbekistan have in the Afghan issue?
A: Uzbekistan has a unique experience of statehood, which includes deep traditions of diplomacy. As it is well-known, the diplomacy, the art of negotiations and peacemaking have a centuries-old historical continuity in our part of Eurasia, and especially, on the territory of modern Uzbekistan. This historically rich experience of the Uzbek diplomacy helps in tackling such international conflicts as the Afghan one.
Unfortunately, the modern world order poses many threats and challenges. We are observing the heightened level of global instability which dictates domination of security issues in the international agenda.
However, in such crises as the Afghan one it is very important to have a post-conflict settlement, resolution of the problems of international migration, etc. It is in this very occasion that the experience of Uzbekistan's diplomacy must be in broad demand by the international community.
In the applied context all of this may turn out to be also useful in training by our specialists in international affairs of professional experts in the sphere of modern conflict studies.
Q: The signing of the agreement between the United States and the Taliban not only raises a broad interest, but also instills hope for an early peace. What practical steps must be undertaken now to further advance the peace process?
A: I agree with you that signing of the agreement between the United States and the Taliban after 18 years of ongoing hostilities between them is indeed a landmark and important political event for the entire region. It is hard to overestimate its significance for peace in Afghanistan.
However, a difficult task lays ahead. One should truly assess the situation. There are remaining many difficult and delicate problems.
In essence, the agreement between the U.S. and Taliban is not an end, but the start of the path towards peace. Now it is important to launch the peace negotiation process itself, the direct intra-Afghan dialogue. Everything will now depend on firm will, unity and decisiveness of the people of Afghanistan themselves.
In this regard, it is very important to form as soon as possible the certain delegations of the government and the opposition, to start a constructive dialogue on the entire spectrum of issues of peaceful recovery of Afghanistan. In sum, the destiny of Afghanistan lays in the hands of Afghans themselves.
In conclusion, I would like to cite the words of the President of Uzbekistan at the Tashkent Conference that the future of Afghanistan must not become an example of incapability of the international community to counteract threats and challenges common to all of us.
Today it is important as never before to all of us to unite and offer a hand of peace, cooperation and support to the much-suffering people of Afghanistan. These words didn't leave careless anyone of the partakers of such a large-scale international forum. It is important today despite any hardships to help the people of Afghanistan to solidly step on the path of peace and prosperity.
In this Afghanistan can always count on its friendly neighbor ― Uzbekistan.