Afghanistan's neighbors agree to cooperate on Afghanistan, but where's Uzbekistan?
Foreign ministers from Afghanistan and its neighboring countries gathered in Istanbul yesterday to discuss plans for maintaining stability in Central Asia after the U.S. and NATO start pulling their troops out of Afghanistan in 2014. At the meeting, participants signed a document (pdf) supporting what is called the "Istanbul process." The document is full of the sort of lofty platitudes that meetings like this usually produce, and is uncontroversial enough for countries with such diverse interests as China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran to have signed on. In a briefing after the meeting, a senior State Department official noted the broad support the statement got:
[W]e thought it was also interesting that Afghanistan’s neighbors and near-neighbors, and I include here Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Iran – as you’ll see from the statement, have really spoken in one voice to assure Afghanistan of their support for Afghan-led reconciliation and transition to Afghan national security forces.
But one country was conspicuously missing in the list of signatories: Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan was one of the 14 countries that, as recently as Monday, State Department officials were calling "key partners" in this. But the final list included only 13 signatories. And the State Department statements do not mention Uzbekistan at all. (All of the other post-Soviet Central Asian states signed on.)
It's not clear why Uzbekistan bowed out, and I've asked the State Department and Uzbekistan Embassy in Washington for more information. Tashkent has some idiosyncratic views on the Afghanistan peace process, like their perennial "6+3" proposal, so it could be related to that. But given the efforts the U.S. has been undertaking to gain Uzbekistan's support for the Afghanistan military effort, and after the U.S. has been working toward this meeting and this agreement, there are likely some hard feelings in Foggy Bottom about this.