Samarkand, Uzbekistan: Despite Afghanistan being high on the agenda of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) meeting of the Council of Heads of State, the Taliban leadership in Kabul was not invited to the conference owing to opposition from certain member countries, ThePrint has learnt.
Under the chairmanship of Uzbekistan in the past one year, the China-led SCO has had several deliberations on how to deal with the Taliban, which took control of Afghanistan in August, 2021. However, when the main summit happened with Uzbekistan as the host, it was decided that none of the Taliban representatives would be invited.
The matter of whether or not to invite the Taliban was under discussion for several months in the run-up to the SCO Summit, which begins Thursday in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. While some countries wanted the Taliban to be invited to the crucial SCO Summit this year, others refused to budge, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
While India, China, Russia, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are full members of the SCO, four countries — Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia — have observer status, and six countries — Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka — have dialogue partner status. Iran joins as a full member in this summit.
According to the sources, the main reason why the SCO, being a multilateral body, could not come to a conclusion in inviting the Taliban was the issue of its legitimacy and international recognition, which has become a “sticky” matter among the member countries.
Besides, some members also raised the issue of whom to invite since the summit is of the heads of states and within the Taliban, it would have meant inviting the acting Prime Minister of the Taliban government, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who is proscribed by the UN.
“Nobody from Afghanistan will be present in this year’s summit because of the events that happened last year … SCO, as a multilateral body, doesn’t support direct links with Afghanistan. However, that does not mean countries individually can’t engage (with the Taliban),” Rakhmatulla Nurimbetov, Uzbekistan’s national coordinator of the SCO said at a press conference Wednesday.
He added: “Afghanistan not (being) present in the meeting does not mean their issues will not get priority. Countries will elaborate their position on Afghanistan and all issues that were discussed this past year will be discussed.”
Interestingly, just days before the SCO Summit, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev wrote in an OpEd that Afghanistan is an “integral part of the larger SCO space”.
“The Afghan people need good neighbours and their support now more than ever. It is our moral obligation to extend a helping hand, to offer them effective ways of overcoming the years-long crisis by promoting socio-economic growth of the country, its integration into regional and global development processes,” he wrote.
He added: “Afghanistan that has played for centuries the role of a buffer in the historical confrontations of global and regional powers, should try on a new peaceful mission of connecting Central and South Asia.”
Within Central Asia, apart from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan have maintained contact with the Taliban, while Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have not openly endorsed the Taliban. Nur-Sultan has sought trade ties with Kabul, but with Tajikistan, the ties have gone sour owing to the issue of drug trafficking from Afghanistan.
‘Uzbek policy not to isolate the Taliban’
The SCO Summit, which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will discuss Afghanistan as one of the main agenda items during the two-day conference even as the present situation in that war-torn country will find a prominent mention in the outcome document, sources said.
India, which has been engaging with the Taliban, had discussed the Afghanistan crisis during the first-ever India-Central Asia Summit, which took place in January 2022.
“Apart from the whole of Central Asia, bilaterally also India has been discussing the issue of Afghanistan with Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan shares a land border with Afghanistan. So, what happens in Afghanistan directly impinges upon what happens in Central Asia. We know that among its neighbour Afghanistan has a complicated relationship with Tajikistan. In Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has tried to play a role of having a working relationship with the Taliban,” Manish Prabhat, India’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan, told ThePrint.
Prabhat also said that the policy of the Uzbeks is to “try not to isolate the Taliban and try to give an opportunity to work, engage with them” as far humanitarian aid for the Afghans are concerned and also “engage with the Taliban in creating an inclusive government and upholding rights of women and minorities”.
In July under its SCO presidency, which comes to an end this month, Uzbekistan held a key conference on Afghanistan in which the Taliban was invited. Several countries had participated in the meeting and it was reaffirmed that the Afghan territory will not be used for terrorist activities.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid Thursday called President Mirziyoyev’s stand on Afghanistan “friendly and sympathetic”.
د افغانستان په اړه د ازبیکستان د محترم ولسمشر ښاغلي شوکت میرضايوف موقف ګیرۍ دوستانه او دلسوزانه ده.
اسلامي امارت د ازبیکستان له دغه موقف څخه ستاینه کوي او د دواوړ وروڼو هېوادونو د ښه با اعتماده، ارام او با ثباته راتلونکي نښه یې بولي. ان شاءالله
— Zabihullah (..ذبـــــیح الله م ) (@Zabehulah_M33) September 14, 2022
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan praises this stance of the brotherly country of Uzbekistan and considers it a reliable, calm and stable future for both countries,” Mujahid said.
(This is an updated version of the copy.)
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)