Taliban interfere in regional forum
ISLAMABAD – A surge in the Taliban has put the insurgent force in control of key border crossings, opened up new sources of income and rocked many of Afghanistan’s neighbors.
In the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, a two-day regional meeting that kicked off on Thursday was originally supposed to deal with “connectivity” in South and Central Asia, encouraging trade ties and transport issues. But it has turned into a high-level gathering of senior American, Russian and European officials who will most certainly be absorbed by Afghanistan and the impact of the rapidly advancing Taliban.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have taken control of key border posts with their neighbors Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
In many cases, there was little or no resistance from the Afghan security forces and army, often left with no supplies or reinforcements. Two weeks ago, more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers crossed the border into Tajikistan. The Taliban did not pursue them.
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The Taliban have also issued statements, including from senior leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who brokered last year’s deal with the United States, assuring Afghanistan’s neighbors they had nothing to fear. of the insurgent movement.
The Taliban are pouring in as the United States and NATO almost complete their 20 years in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, the US Central Command declared that the US withdrawal was 95% complete, after President Joe Biden announced in mid-April that America was ending the “Eternal War.”
The Tashkent meeting includes representatives of the US Department of Homeland Security as well as Washington’s special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, as well as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan are also present.
The objectives of the gathering are no longer clear. Rather than the initial highway and railroad agenda, the powers are likely seeking regional consensus on what final peace can look like and all-stakeholder action to push it through. The fear is not just about the Taliban’s gains; Without a peace deal, the many Afghan warlords could look to another civil war among themselves to seek power or preserve their interests.
“We call on the countries of the region and the wider international community to play a constructive role in supporting the Afghan peace process,” Borrell said.
U.S. diplomats are stepping up a charm offensive with Central Asian leaders as they work to secure a nearby location to respond to any resurgence of outside militants in Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdraws.
But even as high-level American diplomats visit the region, they encounter growing doubts from Afghanistan’s neighbors about such a security partnership with the United States. This contrasts with 2001, when the countries of Central Asia made territory available to US bases, troops and other access as America retaliated for the September 11, 2001 attacks planned by al-Qaida in Afghanistan. .
There is mistrust of the United States as a reliable long-term partner, after a partially successful war in Afghanistan and after years of highly fluctuating American engagement regionally and globally, former veterans have said. American diplomats. And there is Russia, which said this week that a permanent US military base within its sphere of influence in Central Asia would be “unacceptable”.
Meanwhile, Taliban leaders, more internationally savvy than in 2001, visited regional capitals and Moscow this summer as part of a diplomatic push, offering broad promises that they would pursue security. , regional peace and trade regardless of their struggle with the government in Kabul.
Information for this article was provided by Kathy Gannon, Daria Litvinova, Vladimir Isachenkov, Ellen Knickmeyer, and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.