Photo: MoICAfghanistan via X

Taliban and Uzbekistan Sign Over $1 Billion Trade Deal

The Taliban has signed export-import agreements worth about $1.2 billion with Uzbekistan, aiming to boost it to $3 billion in the near future. The agreements were signed during a high-level delegation’s visit led by the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Jamshid Khodjayev.

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, Uzbekistan was one of the few neighboring countries to maintain relations with the Taliban-led government without officially recognizing it. Uzbekistan also kept its embassy in Kabul open.

Uzbekistan officials and Taliban leaders held meetings in the months leading up to the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. After the Taliban took power, they quickly reached business agreements, and the Taliban pledged that Afghanistan territory would never be used to launch an attack on a neighboring country.

Uzbekistan supplies nearly 60% of Afghanistan’s electricity. The Taliban Ministry of Energy and Water also said in a statement that it discussed a number of issues with the Uzbekistan delegation during their visit to Kabul, including the investment of the country’s private sector in Afghanistan’s water management, absorbing more imported energy, and the repair of the 220 KV power line over the Amu River.

Bilateral ties with Afghanistan is not without hurdles for Uzbekistan. Tashkent has repeatedly criticized the construction of the Qosh Tape canal in Afghanistan that diverts water from the Amu Darya for irrigation purposes in northern Afghanistan. Although the Taliban has mostly remained inconsiderate of such views. However, Uzbek officials had previously announced that a delegation from their country would visit Kabul to negotiate the Qosh Tepa Canal project, which is a concern for Afghanistan’s northern neighbors, especially Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been a vocal advocate for regional cooperation on this issue, urging Central Asian leaders to unite in addressing the challenges posed by the canal.

Experts believe the completion of the project will lead to an increase in cross-border violence over water as it will divert a significant amount of the Amu River, streaming along the border with Uzbekistan, into Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan is concerned that the construction of the Qosh Tepa Canal could lead to a shortage of water for its cotton plantations, a vital agricultural crop that contributes significantly to the country’s GDP and supports a significant portion of its population. Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya region governor, Ulugbek Kosimov, has said that the canal will have an impact on all countries in the Amu Darya river basin. “So far, Afghanistan has not opened the canal, and construction work is not complete. However, whether we like it or not, there will be a reduction in the amount of water available to Central Asian countries. This development will also require significant funding, and the issue will be considered at the government level before any further action is taken,” Kosimov said.

The delegation of Uzbekistan’s visit to Afghanistan comes after the inauguration of the second phase of the Qosh Tepa Canal. During the inauguration ceremony, Taliban officials emphasized the successful completion of the project and assured regional countries, particularly Uzbekistan, that they would address their concerns through diplomacy. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said, “If our neighbors have worries in this regard, we are ready to contact them through diplomatic channels.” However, the Taliban’s conciliatory tone was mixed with defiance. The group’s Acting Defense Minister Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqoob warned that the Taliban’s armed forces would forcefully resist any attempts to stop the project. He was quoted by ToloNews as saying, “All of us, especially the national and Islamic armies of the Defense Ministry, support the implementation of such projects, and we will support them with all our power.”