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Talks in Uzbekistan Highlight Taliban’s Political Clout
Talks in Uzbekistan Highlight Taliban’s Political Clout

Talks in Uzbekistan Highlight Taliban’s Political Clout

Talks in Uzbekistan Highlight Taliban’s Political Clout

In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents’ political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior foreign ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.
Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev, AP reported.
The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to the Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan to peace prospects and possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railroad lines and electricity.
Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects.
“The Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.
Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan.”

 Protracted War
Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group in Afghanistan.
Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the US Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan.
“What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.
“High-profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said.

 Afghan Government’s Approval
On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government’s armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government’s approval for the meeting.
“Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” said Taheri.
Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.
Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to IS when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan, not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors subsequently declared they would join the peace process.
Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who went over and joined IS after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year to live in self-imposed exile there.
Coincidentally, the rescue of Afghan Uzbeks from the battle with the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.

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