Uzbekistan offers assistance to NATO in Afghanistan

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - The proposal to increase Afghanistan's national army from 70,000 to 120,000 was not discussed at the NATO summit in Bucharest, and the agreement with Russia on the transit of NATO non-military cargos via its territory has not created a sensation.

The one interesting initiative on Afghanistan made in Bucharest was Uzbek President Islam Karimov's proposal to add NATO to the 6+2 talks on peace and stability in Afghanistan, held between the countries bordering on it - Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, plus the United States and Russia, as guarantors.

The 6+2 group was set up in 1997 and had been effective until 2001. It drafted proposals on settling the political crisis in Afghanistan under UN auspices and held a meeting of the warring sides in Tashkent in July 1999, which adopted the declaration on the guidelines for settling the conflict. It was later used to draft a UN Security Council decision on political solutions to the conflict between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban.

The terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 halted the group's operation.

The Uzbek president's proposal to add NATO to the group is logical, because NATO troops are directly involved in the operation in Afghanistan. Karimov said that only the involvement of all parties concerned could help draft a comprehensive plan for reconstructing Afghanistan.

Unlike the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional security bloc in Central Asia that includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which comprises Russia, China and four ex-Soviet Central Asian states, the 6+2 group includes Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan is one of Afghanistan's most active economic partners. At the summit in Bucharest, it has proposed building a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan, which will create thousands of jobs in Afghanistan. Kabul wholeheartedly supports this idea.

It was first advanced in the 1990s by Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurat Niyazov. At that time, Pakistan and India pledged to buy gas delivered along the pipeline, but the project was put on ice because of the civil war. The situation has improved since then, and the other day India and Turkmenistan signed a memorandum of understanding on gas production. India plans to join the project soon.

Turkmenistan also supports Kabul's idea of building a ring railroad around Afghanistan to unite all railroads in the region.

Turkmenistan, which is one of the largest electricity suppliers to Afghanistan, has built and repaired over 300 km ( 186 miles) of power transmission lines in the northern, western and also, according to some sources, southwestern provinces of Afghanistan.

Apart from helping the Afghan authorities to strengthen their control of the country, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is also rebuilding the country's ruined economy. Part of the ISAF is special Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) that are small teams of civilian and military personnel working in Afghanistan's provinces to provide security for aid workers and help in reconstruction work. It would be logical to expand the group to include similar teams from Central Asian republics.

Islam Karimov's proposal of adding NATO to the 6+2 talks on Afghanistan is important because NATO is actively cooperating with Pakistan to improve the situation in Afghanistan, in particular protecting the Pakistani-Afghan border and exchanging intelligence data. It has set up a trilateral commission comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and ISAF representatives for this purpose.

Why not set up similar commissions with other members of the 6+2 group? Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan would gladly participate in them, but Brussels needs time to digest Karimov's proposal.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Trend.

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