As Afghanistan once again becomes a major concern of regional stability, a high-level international conference in Tashkent will bring the top leaders and diplomats from Central and South Asia, representative from the United States and heads of authoritative international and regional organizations on one stage, next week.
Initiated by Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the President of Uzbekistan, the international conference 'Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities' will take place in Tashkent on July 16 with an aim to "strengthen the historically close and friendly ties, trust and good-neighbourliness between Central and South Asia" in the interests of all people and countries of both regions.
The forum will be held immediately after the meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe (July 13-14) and also the foreign ministers' meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group.
While External Affairs minister S Jaishankar will be leading India's participation, the event is planned to be attended by Mirziyoyev, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres and several foreign ministers of Central and South Asian countries besides members of global financial institutions, companies and leading research and analytical centres.
The European Commission foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell will be in Tashkent and deliver a speech at the opening ceremony on Friday.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who begins a tour of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan starting Monday, will be in attendance too along with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Tashkent says that the conference is intended to form a political and expert platform for multilateral discussion of the mutually beneficial strategic Central Asia-South Asia model in transport and logistics, energy, trade, industry, investment, technological, cultural and humanitarian domains.
However, it is Afghanistan peace negotiations and Kabul's integration into the Central Asian economic space which could dominate the proceedings. As landlocked Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan open up to the world and increase trade activity with South Asia and Europe through new transport corridors, increasing unrest in Afghanistan is now becoming a huge cause for concern.
In a bid to draw "serious attention to the situation in the region" and in Central Asia, Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov had recently travelled to Washington and met the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 1. While Blinken may not be attending the conference coming week, it is expected that a senior representative from the Joe Biden administration will participate in the discussions.
That Afghanistan is on everyone's mind was confirmed by Bakhtiar Hakimov, the Russian Special Presidential Representative for SCO, who told news agency Tass that the foreign ministers will adopt a joint statement on the situation in Afghanistan after the Dushanbe talks.
"It is clear that, considering the current situation in Afghanistan, we must review the developments in this country first and foremost. The discussion will take place both in the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers and during a separate meeting of Foreign Ministers of the SCO and Afghanistan within the contact group. After that, we plan to adopt a joint statement on the situation in Afghanistan," he said.
India has, meanwhile, reiterated its support for an inclusive, Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process. After meeting Lavrov in Moscow on Friday, Jaishankar made it clear once again that a durable peace in Afghanistan requires a genuine "double peace" – that is, peace within Afghanistan and peace around Afghanistan.
"We believe that the immediate need of the day is really a reduction in violence and if we have to see peace within Afghanistan and around Afghanistan, it's important for India and Russia to work together and ensure that much of the progress that we've seen in economic, social and democratic terms are maintained. We are both committed to an independent, sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan," the EAM had said after his meeting with his Russian counterpart.
While India remains committed to steadfastly supporting Afghanistan during this transition, the Dushanbe and Tashkent meetings in the coming days will make it clear how serious others in the region are in defusing the volatile situation in the region.