In dealing with the situation in Afghanistan, Dushanbe and Tashkent have taken different approaches toward dealing with a Taliban-ruled country.
Of the three Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have been actively dealing with the consequences of Afghanistan’s fallout. While Tashkent is more in a wait-and-accept mode toward the Taliban, Dushanbe has been vocal about its opposition to the group.
Tashkent’s position toward the new government in Afghanistan has been to urge the formation of an inclusive government that encompasses various rivaling powers. But a Taliban-only government seems to be an acceptable alternative for Uzbekistan. When Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev recently said “our defense is ready for any situation, we are in control of the situation… They [Afghanistan] are our dear neighbors, they can’t move, neither can we,” the statement sounded like an acceptance of the recently announced non-inclusive Taliban-only government.
Mirziyoyev’s statement also noted that Tashkent would be ready to mitigate any outcomes as events unfold in Afghanistan both diplomatically and militarily. For that purpose the country had entered into negotiations with Taliban early, according to Mirziyoyev. Besides, Tashkent and other Central Asian countries received guarantees from the Taliban that no Central Asian country would be implicated in any future instability in Afghanistan and have received several assurances from Taliban (in Moscow and in Doha).
Uzbekistan also made clear that it wants to be viewed as neither an anti-Taliban nor pro-Western power, but as a neutral party. Tashkent denied rumors that resistance forces of Afghanistan, ethnic Uzbek and Tajik opposition forces, were present in its territory, though earlier reports said that opposition leaders were in Uzbekistan temporarily as the Taliban launched a military campaign to the north of the country. Furthermore, Tashkent, along with other Central Asian countries, left unanswered a June request from the Biden administration for temporary refuge for about 9,000 Afghans who aided American operations (though, later Tashkent offered one its airports for Germany to evacuate at least 5,300 people, 4,400 of which were Afghans).
Dushanbe, on the other hand, though economically and militarily the weakest of the Central Asian countries (despite hosting a key Russian base) has not been afraid to act unflatteringly toward the Taliban despite the possibility of falling victim military and politically to the group. President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan posthumously honored Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Masoud, two of the Taliban’s most ardent enemies.
On August 25, when Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited Central Asia soon after the fall of the Afghan government, Rahmon expressed strong opinions on the composition of the new Afghanistan government that should include other ethnic minorities, including Tajiks. Specifically, Rahmon said, “Tajikistan will not recognize any other government formed in this country through oppression, without taking into account the position of the entire Afghan people, especially all of its national minorities.”
Tashkent is careful how it is perceived by the Taliban, as it foresees the group will be a future partner that it will have to negotiate with on political, economic, security matters. Dushanbe, on the other hand, is direct and bold toward the Taliban by expressing strong opinions on the composition of a new government in Afghanistan. Dushanbe strongly opposes a Taliban-only government while Tashkent stays away from similar comments this time to avoid antagonizing the Taliban.
Officials in Uzbekistan are planning for possible consequences and trying to make sure that the government has everything under control and the events in Afghanistan will not have a spillover effect on Uzbekistan. Mirziyoyev’s assurance that the country entered into negotiations to protect the country indicated that Tashkent will accept any developments in Afghanistan despite wishing to see an inclusive government.