Central Asian leaders warn on Afghan chaos as Taliban advances
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Avaza (Turkmenistan) (AFP) –
Leaders of five Central Asian countries sounded the alarm over the spiral of war in neighbouring Afghanistan at a regional summit Friday, as US-led forces withdraw from the country and the Taliban advances.
The talks in the Caspian Sea town of Avaza in Turkmenistan come as the militant group challenges Afghan government forces in several large cities after weeks of gains in the countryside, including in provinces next to the three former Soviet 'stans' that border the country -- Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The Taliban has established official contacts with both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well as Russia and China, two important players in the region.
That differs markedly from the last time it was in power, when countries in the region -- neutral Turkmenistan aside -- had offered support to the local and international forces trying to unseat the militant group.
But analysts argue that a growing security vacuum in the country can pose its own threat to the region and its growing economic cooperation with Kabul.
Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmon on Friday noted that the Taliban now controlled the entirety of Afghanistan's border with his mountainous country of 9.5 million people.
"A number of terrorist organisations are actively strengthening their positions in these areas," Rakhmon claimed in his address to the summit.
Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev called for a full ceasefire and "mutually acceptable negotiated compromises" at talks.
Tajikistan is one of the few neighbours of Afghanistan that has not hosted a delegation from the Taliban as it presents itself as a government-in-waiting.
- Russia over the border -
But even as the Taliban has pledged that it has no designs on the countries to its north, chaos unleashed by the standoff between the government and the militants could embolden other violent groups that do, said Jen Brick Murtazashvili of the University of Pittsburgh.
Moreover, "as long as this fighting continues, it will be difficult for either (Kabul or the Taliban) to guarantee security for (regional) infrastructure projects," Murtazashvili told AFP.
As the Central Asian leaders were holding talks in Avaza, Moscow was involved in joint military drills close to Afghanistan's borders in both Tajikistan, where it operates a military base, and Uzbekistan.
Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian military's General Staff, flew into Uzbekistan to observe the exercises that are expected to wrap up next week.
During a meeting with Uzbek counterpart Shukhrat Khalmukhamedov, Gerasimov said the drills took place "to practise actions to repel terrorist threats" and noted that Moscow was increasing its supplies of weapons to the region.
Gerasimov and other Russian officials have criticised the United States for what they have described as a "hasty" exit from Washington's longest-ever war.
Emil Dzhuraev, a political analyst in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek, told AFP that while Central Asian countries will welcome security assistance from foreign powers, Russia and China's poor relations with the United States were muddying an already unnerving situation in Afghanistan.
"For Central Asia it will be very unfortunate if the big powers approach this problem as yet another geopolitical contest between themselves," Dzhuraev told AFP.
© 2021 AFP