Photo: FDPM_AFG via X

Taliban’s Efforts of Regional Integration Bring Big Deals But No Acceptance

Internationally isolated, the Taliban try to build stronger regional ties. Afghanistan’s neighbors, in return, continue to engage the regime in Kabul short of full recognition. Both sides struggle to strike the right balance.

Last week, regional countries gathered in Uzbekistan’s capital city of Tashkent for the annual meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). The Taliban delegation, however, uninvited to the summit, had just returned from a trip to Tehran when heads of state met in Tashkent.

The Taliban delegation, led by its deputy prime minister, Abdul Ghani Baradar, signed five economic cooperation agreements. The Iranian government, according to Taliban statements, agreed to allow Afghanistan to use the Chabahar port almost immediately–a promise the group could utilize as its relations with its arch-patron, Pakistan, continue to deteriorate.

The trip to Tehran came after a large Uzbek delegation led by its deputy prime minister visited Kabul and reportedly signed trade deals in excess of $1 billion, with the goal to increase it to $3 billion. Currently, Iran is the largest source of Afghanistan’s imports, surpassing Pakistan who have historically been a transit connectivity point for the landlocked country.

During the Taliban delegation’s trip to Iran, both sides agreed to expand trade activities, including the Taliban’s use of Chabahar Port for exports and imports, and technical collaboration between the two countries. The Taliban Minister for Industry and Commerce stated that they plan to increase the volume of trade between Iran and Afghanistan to $10 billion in the future.

After meeting the Taliban delegation, Iranian president Ibrahim Raisi went to the summit in Tashkent where he once again criticized the Taliban’s failure to form a government that could, in his words, “reflect the diversity of Afghanistan.”

Concerns over Afghanistan’s isolation were ubiquitous. The Uzbek president, Shevket Merzayev, also lamented the Taliban’s absence from regional integration efforts and reminded his counterparts that the regime in Kabul remains unrecognized. He stated, “In the face of complex challenges, we cannot abandon the multiethnic people of Afghanistan, who have been our close neighbors for centuries. It is imperative that we actively engage this country in the process of regional integration as a necessary condition for our sustainable development.”

Pakistan’s interim prime minister, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, also said that the Taliban’s performance has impacted the entire region given Afghanistan’s critical role in regional integration and economic prosperity.

In response, the Taliban authorities criticized the ECO for not inviting them to the summit. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told TOLOnews, “This meeting should have been based on economic principles and not on political principles. The issues should not have been investigated. Unfortunately, the Islamic Emirate was not allowed to attend.”

Abdul Latif Nazari, the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Economy, said, “The Islamic Emirate seeks to develop economic and trade relations with neighboring countries and the region. Therefore, in the ECO summit, we should seek to expand economic and commercial relations at regional levels.”

Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, Uzbekistan was one of the few regional countries to maintain relations with the Taliban-led government without officially recognizing it. Uzbekistan also kept its embassy in Kabul open. After the Taliban took power, they quickly reached business agreements.