The Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan “Peace Process, Security Cooperation and regional Connectivity” took place on the 27th of march 2018. The President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev participated at the international conference, together with the president of Afghanistan, His Excellency President Mr. Ashraf Ghani and High Representative/Vice-President of the European commission Federica Mogherini. This conference attracted representatives from all over the world since the heads and representatives of foreign policy institutions of the People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, United States of America, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Turkey, India, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, as well as international and regional organizations participated to this event, underlying the geopolitical importance of the thematic. It should be noted that the representatives of all permanent Member States of the UN Security Council and countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization were represented.
Not surprisingly, the Afghan conflict stays the biggest threat for Uzbekistan. The geographical position of Uzbekistan as a neighbor of Afghanistan and a pivot in central Asia, gives the country a particular role to contain instability and contributing to a more secure future for the whole of Eurasian continent.
During the conference, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev stressed that « Afghanistan’s security is security of Uzbekistan, linchpin of stability and prosperity of entire greater region of Central and South Asia ». The Uzbek president underlined also that « the main condition of advancement towards peace is, first of all, to draft and implement in practice the sole, both regionally and globally endorsed Comprehensive peace program for Afghanistan. »
The president proposed a stabilisation process with the 4 following steps ;
-First is to draft basic principles of peaceful settlement and secure broad international consensus on them;
-Second is to develop a mechanism to start negotiations between the Afghan government and the armed opposition;
-Third is to adopt a «Road map» of assistance by the international community to the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan.
– Finally, it will be of invaluable significance the resolute and unanimous appeal of all interested external forces to the armed opposition with a call to come to the negotiating table with the Afghan government and put an end to confrontation and violence.
This bold Uzbek initiative is coherent with the new Uzbekistan’s foreign policy concept developed by the new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, which defines as a main priority consolidation of relations and cooperation with neighbouring countries at the Central Asian scale.
In the recent past, Uzbekistan was already at the forefront to propose initiatives to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. The meeting of the Group «6+2» took place in Tashkent in 1999 on the level of heads of foreign policy institutions of states neighboring on Afghanistan, as well as Russia and the United States. Northern Alliance and Taliban movement representatives participated at that meeting. The Tashkent declaration on major principles of peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan was adopted, which became an official document of the 54th Session of the UN General Assembly and Security Council.
Geopolitical interests at different levels
Uzbekistan was a peripheral territory of Soviet Union and acquired after independence a more central position with the end of bipolarity and the emergence of a multipolar world. Uzbekistan is now surrounded and courted by strong state powers competing for geopolitical influence. This situation can bring advantages as opportunities emerge from all directions, but the balance of interests of international partners has to be constantly and carefully measured. Uzbekistan is at the same time under direct threat as a front-line state bordering the conflict in Afghanistan. To preserve its sovereignty, security and reach prosperity, the Uzbek state has developed « realpolitical skills » with a doctrine of multivectorial foreign policy, similar to the balance of power, but is also eager to project stability. It is the more adapted posture to position itself in a highly volatile region.
Uzbekistan faces different challenges:
There is a major external challenge as Uzbekistan is geographically situated in the crush zone of two converging arc of crisis. The arc of crisis on the Southern flank of Eurasia (from Sahel in Africa to Afghanistan) is characterized by political destabilizations with domino effects that ill-conceived policies from Western powers have made worse by provoking regime changes leading to civil wars. This has facilitated the access to power or the reinforcement of extremist Islamist forces. This Southern arc of crisis is overlapping another arc of crisis from Arctic Sea to Afghanistan deriving from the conflicts resulting from the fall of USSR and the posture of Russia resisting Islamist and euro-Atlantist expansion for its own security.
Central Asia is a landlocked region. Central Asian states have no access to open seas and are consequently dependent on neighbouring countries for commercial and energy imports and exports. Uzbekistan is the only doubly landlocked country in the world as it is separated from open seas by at least two countries.
The central position of Uzbekistan in Central Asia can both be an asset or a drawback. In troubled times, it can be surrounded by hostile states and be drowned into changing alliances in all directions. In time of peace, its central position can foster exchanges in all directions.
If Afghanistan is stabilized, then the Afghan soil will open up the new opportunities and bring benefits to all states of the Eurasian continent. It will strengthen common security and stability, create favourable conditions for the New Silk road project, with the construction of motorways, railroads, pipelines and development of regional and trans-regional trade.
Uzbekistan has a special interest in becoming a hub at the crossroads of to this new emerging geo-economic configuration. Uzbekistan plans to launch the trans-Afghan transport-communication projects in close integration with other projects like the Uzbekistan–Turkmenistan–Iran–Oman and Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan–China corridors. It will create the conditions for the development of intercontinental transport corridors in almost all directions through the shortest route, from north to south and from east to west.
Europeans should support the Uzbek initiative to foster central Asia and Eurasian stability
European Union High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini reminded that European security is also related to Central Asia security. She underlined that « The people in this room know better than anyone else the consequences of the Afghan conflict on security, all across this region and in the world. » « Together we have also worked to monitor the movements of foreign terrorist fighters – which is a security interest we all share, in Afghanistan, in Central Asia and in Europe. »
Future challenges are difficult to face as globalization is a carving up of geopolitical spaces between powers and can have very destabilizing effects in terms of security, economy and access to energy. The Eurasian continent constitutes the new geopolitical zone of manoeuvring for these competing powers because of its size, demography, minerals resources, continental wide-infrastructures and shifting geopolitical constellations.
The European Union member states should therefore not find themselves marginalized in the alliance building process taking place in Eurasia in an adjustment process between powers towards a multipolar world. European countries have an interest in having Uzbekistan, a pivot country in Central Asia succeed its transition and modernization. The potential destabilization of Central Asia from the precarious situation in the Afghan conflict might also destabilize the whole Eurasian continent and Europe would be further squeezed between the Southern arc of crisis and new fractures on its Eastern flank.
The best systems of defence are concentric lines constituting different lines of defences to prevent instability pervading from zones of conflict and “failed states“. Concentric lines of defence are a necessity since the front lines are permanently moving in space and time and strategic depth is important.
The civilian and military operation in Afghanistan constituted the first line of defence against instability threatening the Eurasian continent and world security: the results were however far from optimal because the interests of neighbouring countries were not enough taken into account.
With the risk of permanent conflict in Afghanistan and the risk of geopolitical vacuum if European nations loose interest in the region, the stability of front-line states bordering the zone of conflict becomes even more important and they can be directly affected by any spread of instability. The whole area of Central Asia bordering Afghanistan constitutes a line of defence of continental importance against instability. This is why this new Uzbekistan-Afghanistan initiative, Uzbekistan with the support of Central Asian and Eurasian states is so important as they need to project stability in neighbouring Afghanistan .
EU countries and connected with the Greater Central Asia space including Afghanistan, are also facing many common challenges: both have to face globalization with new opportunities but also destabilizing effects. The « New Silk road » projects and its different routes across the Eurasian continent could improve Uzbek economy characterized by its landlocked status and achieve more exchanges with new physical links between Europe and Central Asia.
Both European countries and Uzbekistan have also a very ancient civilization. This is why they should keep vivid their heritage and learn from each other.
Uzbekistan can be a valuable partner for Europe to promote a euro-continental area of security and prosperity and achieve a better balance of interests in the Maelstrom of globalization.