The sustainable development of Afghanistan is a guarantee of stability and prosperity for the entire Central Asian region, writes Axmad Mamasadikov,
The geostrategic position of Uzbekistan determines its role in the development of the logistics potential of the region, together with the countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan. Currently, Afghanistan is gradually striving to become the centre of a new macro-region connecting Central and South Asia. However, without establishing stability in this country, it is extremely difficult to talk about its sustainable economic development and the entire region, the diversification of transport corridors and interconnectedness with South Asia.
As part of the new regional policy carried out by the Republic of Uzbekistan to build constructive and mutually beneficial ties with neighboring countries, one of the priority areas is the development of cooperation with Afghanistan.
Historically and geographically, the peoples of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan had close ties and good neighbourly relations. These ties have existed since ancient times – since on both sides of the Amu Darya there lived a people who had almost identical culture, traditions and customs. At the present stage, relations between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan are built on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs. Uzbekistan has provided and continues to provide assistance to its southern neighbour in restoring its economy and social infrastructure. During the Soviet period, specialists from Uzbekistan arrived in Afghanistan to work in the agricultural sector and the oil and gas sector. They worked as teachers in educational institutions, and carried out scientific work in research centres.
The sustainable development of Afghanistan is a guarantee of stability and prosperity for the entire Central Asian region. Since the first days of independence, Uzbekistan has made efforts to peacefully resolve the Afghan conflict. The Republic has always advocated the early establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan and has made a significant contribution to the restoration and development of the economy of the neighboring country, improving the lives of its people by increasing the volume of mutual trade and implementing major infrastructure and humanitarian projects.
Both on a bilateral basis and within the framework of multilateral formats, Uzbekistan consistently declares the need for more active involvement of Afghanistan in regional economic integration processes, further implementation of socio-economic projects in the country and continued humanitarian assistance, which is very necessary to stabilize the situation and prevent a humanitarian crisis .
Since 2017, Uzbekistan has significantly expanded reciprocal ties with Afghanistan and actively joined international efforts to resolve the Afghan problem. At the same time, the high dynamics of Uzbek -Afghan relations is the result of the new foreign policy strategy of Tashkent. Its main provisions were detailed by the President of Uzbekistan at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2017, during the Samarkand high-level conference on Central Asia in November of the same year and at the consultative meeting of the heads of state of the region in Astana in March 2018.
In July 2022, an international conference “Afghanistan: security and economic development” was held in Tashkent, dedicated to the implementation of a number of infrastructure and humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. This conference has become a logical continuation of the initiatives of the leadership of Uzbekistan and demonstrates the openness of the foreign policy of the republic, aimed at restoring the historical interconnectedness of the regions of Central and South Asia.
At this stage, Afghanistan began to be seen not as a country from whose territory a threat to peace and stability emanates, but as a state capable of becoming a friendly and prosperous part of our common region. A very significant event initiated by Uzbekistan in the framework of promoting peace in Afghanistan was the International Conference on Afghanistan, held in Tashkent in March 2018.
Today, promoting the economic recovery of Afghanistan through the implementation of joint projects in the transport, economic, energy and educational fields is one of the priority areas of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy.
In order to further develop effective trade and transport and logistics ties with neighbouring countries, especially Afghanistan, as well as ensure the security of international transportation of goods and expand the transit potential of Uzbekistan, the integrated use of the resource base of border regions and the creation of favourable conditions for actively attracting foreign direct investment in 2018 the free economic zone Termez was created.
In addition, the Termez International Trade Centre (Termez ITC) was formed in 2020 , which has an infrastructure for storage, transportation and other modern services for manufacturers, exporters and buyers. In the near future, a full-fledged commissioning of this ITC is planned.
One of the features of the legal regime of ITC Termez will be the provision of a number of basic services on the principle of single window using interactive mechanisms. Services include customs, tax, certification, phytosanitary, veterinary, transport and banking operations, currency exchange and mobile communications, medical and hotel services, car maintenance and others. In addition, citizens of Afghanistan, as well as other states and stateless persons entering from the territory of Afghanistan, may not apply for entry visas, go through personal and passport control, and stay on the territory of the ITC for 10 days without temporary registration.
At present, Uzbekistan is making efforts for the economic recovery and development of Afghanistan, offering the construction of new infrastructure projects. The foreign policy strategy of Uzbekistan is aimed at the practical implementation of the following vital initiatives (strategic projects) for Afghanistan in the field of transport, energy, trade and education:
– construction of the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway corridor;
– construction of the power transmission line “Surkhan – Puli- Khumri ”;
– laying of fiber-optic communication lines by “Uzbektelecom” and “Afgan Telecom Corp.”;
– training of Afghan specialists in Uzbekistan. In the city of Termez, the Educational Centre for the Training of Afghan Citizens is successfully functioning, in which more than 100 afghan boys and girls study. In the future, it is planned to increase the number of students up to 250 students.
Summing up, in recent years Uzbekistan has accumulated significant experience in participating in the implementation of various economic projects in Afghanistan. In the process of rebuilding its economy, Afghanistan needs a large amount of goods and services that are not available in the country, but which can be obtained from Uzbekistan. The presence of serious human and industrial potential allows Uzbekistan to successfully implement these infrastructure projects.
The implementation of such projects in Afghanistan will ensure the beginning of the process of restoration and development of the economic sector of the country. In the future, the constructed facilities will not only be an integral component of the infrastructure of Afghanistan, but will make a significant contribution to strengthening connections between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
This Article first appeared in Asia Today and is republished here with the author’s permission. The Author, Axmad Mamasadikov, is an independent researcher, and expert on Central Asia and Afghanistan