Uzbekistan: Tashkent conference backs Afghan government’s peace offer

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TASHKENT (TCA) — Following talks in Uzbekistan on March 27, more than 20 countries and organizations declared their support for direct talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban to end the 16-year conflict in Afghanistan, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reported.

A joint declaration issued at the end of the conference in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, noted the signatories’ “strong backing for the National Unity Government’s offer to launch direct talks with the Taliban, without any preconditions.”

They also called upon the Taliban to “accept this offer for a peace process that is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”

The conference was attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, and a number of foreign ministers, including Sergei Lavrov of Russia, Wang Yi of China, and Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu. The United States was represented by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.

Earlier this month, Ghani offered to allow the Taliban to establish itself as a political party and said he would work to remove sanctions on the militant group, among other incentives, if it joined the government in peace negotiations.

In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.

But the Taliban has so far ruled out direct talks with Kabul and insisted it would only negotiate with the United States, which it calls a “foreign occupying force.” The Taliban also says that NATO forces must withdraw before negotiations can begin.

The United States has refused to withdraw troops and insisted that the Afghan government must play a lead role in peace negotiations.

While the Tashkent meeting did not lead to any breakthrough, it highlighted the potential reemergence of Uzbekistan as a diplomatic player in the region.

During the conference, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev offered to host peace negotiations between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban.

“We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange on the territory of Uzbekistan direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement,” he said.

According to the declaration adopted at the Tashkent conference, delegates “recognize that terrorism, narcotics and organized crime are interlinked global threats and require a common strategy based on the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy,” TOLOnews reported.

As item 20 of the declaration states, delegates “affirm that all security assistance to Afghanistan should be provided through the Afghan government and strongly oppose any provision of financial support, material assistance or arms to the Taliban and ISIS/Daesh, which only serves to destabilize Afghanistan and prolong the conflict.”

The declaration was adopted by Afghanistan, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, EU and UN.

Sergey Kwan

TCA