Taliban Delegation Heads to Uzbekistan, Draws Ire From Pro-Islamic State Group
On Sunday, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the departure of a Taliban delegation to Uzbekistan to attend a July 25 conference in Tashkent focused on the “Security, Economic Growth, and Regional Connectivity of Afghanistan.”
These are certainly pressing issues as the Taliban approaches the one-year mark of its resumed tenure while facing severe economic problems and a range of security challenges. Kabul looks to assure regional and international players that it is able to foster a security environment conducive to badly needed foreign investment. In its messaging, the Taliban frequently asserts that it is working hard to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a launchpad for attacks against its neighbors and others abroad.
However, this is likely to be a hard sell given the recent rocket attacks conducted from Afghan territory toward Uzbekistan in April and July as well as Tajikistan in May — not to mention the Islamic State Khurasan Province’s (ISKP) transnational nature and vision that includes an operational presence extending into Pakistan.
Regardless, the Uzbek government says the two-day conference will bring together officials from around the world “to consider issues of the socio-economic reconstruction of Afghanistan, the implementation of infrastructure and humanitarian projects designed to bring the long-awaited peace to the current and future generations of the Afghan people.” Uzbekistan declared the primary goal as advancing dialogue about “countering international terrorism” in Afghanistan.
Pro-IS Uzbek Group Continues to Scorn Taliban-Uzbek Relations
A new United Nations Security Council (UNSC) report details increased ISKP activity in northern Afghanistan and warns about the role of the Islamic State’s (IS) Central Asian fighters in partially driving this trend. This momentum has been reflected in the media and communications space, as ISKP has ramped up efforts to broaden its appeal to and recruit speakers of Central Asian languages in recent months.
ISKP also attacked Uzbekistan from Afghan soil, aggressively leveraged the claimed event for propaganda, and explicitly threatened further action. In line with this, the group has become more vocally hostile toward the Tashkent government and has honed in on Taliban-Uzbek relations, accusing Uzbekistan of protecting the Taliban, using them as a proxy to fight ISKP, and conspiring to spread democracy in Khurasan through a planned transnational railway project running to South Asia and foreign aid provisions to Kabul.
Continuing with these narratives, the pro-IS/ISKP Tawhid News group quickly jumped on the opportunity to criticize the Taliban’s trip to Tashkent. The network claims the Taliban delegation is there to offer Uzbekistan protection from the Islamic State in exchange for economic aid.