Azerbaijan-Afghanistan economic ties amid evolving geopolitical landscape
    Experts ponder prospects for expanding ties

    INTERVIEWS  22 February 2024 - 12:30

    Samir Ibrahimov

    Last week, Azerbaijan's first ambassador to Afghanistan in modern history, Ilham Mammadov, arrived in Kabul. He met with Amir Khan Muttaqi, the foreign minister of the Taliban government. Ilham Mammadov presented Muttaqi with an official letter inaugurating the embassy.

    It should be noted that some countries have already gone ahead and re-engaged with the Taliban. The US, for example, has not ruled out re-establishing its presence in Kabul. An Afghan Taliban ambassador has appeared in China, and Kazakhstan has removed the Taliban movement from its list of banned organisations.

    What does all this mean? Is there an understanding that even though the movement ruling Afghanistan is not recognised as legitimate and legal by everyone in the world, it is necessary to build relations with Afghanistan? Is it possible to establish pragmatic relations with the Taliban and cooperate with Afghanistan? Could Azerbaijan, for example, implement projects to cooperate in transport, to transit goods through it?

    Well-known experts on the region answered these questions for Caliber.Az.

    Grigory Mavrov, a Ukrainian orientalist, believes that it is important to note a number of points. According to him, the recognition of the Taliban government in Afghanistan is only a matter of time.

    "It was roughly the same with the Bolsheviks on the territory of the former Russian Empire. At first, many states refused to deal with Bolshevik Russia, but then economic relations led to diplomatic recognition also being sought.

    The return to Afghanistan of the old government, which is regarded as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, can hardly be taken seriously. Interestingly, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, also pointed out in his order that the opening of the embassy was not in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (as the Taliban themselves call Afghanistan), but in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA), which is recognised by the majority of the world's states. China also does not recognise the Taliban government. However, it has established diplomatic and economic relations with them. Last year, several Chinese companies signed contracts with the Taliban government, the most important of which was a multimillion-dollar oil deal. This is not surprising, as China has a long-standing relationship with the Taliban group, motivated by national security concerns. For China, isolating the Taliban is potentially dangerous because it could further marginalise the regime and eventually turn Afghanistan into an international hub for all sorts of paramilitary groups. That is why China and some other countries are keen to develop their relations with the Taliban," the orientalist said.

    It is difficult to say how much trade with Afghanistan is favourable for Azerbaijan, the expert said.

    "Economic relations between the two countries have never been intensive, and the potential of mutual trade can hardly exceed Azerbaijan's trade with the previous regime in Afghanistan. At the same time, entering the Afghan market now, when the Taliban regime is not yet recognised, may be beneficial for Azerbaijani business and mutual relations between the two countries," Mavrov believes.

    The opening of the embassy is an important event, notes Andrei Serenko, head of the Russian Centre for the Study of Afghan Politics.

    "But I don't think there will be any serious economic projects between Azerbaijan and Taliban Afghanistan. Russia did not close its embassy in Kabul with the arrival of the Taliban. However, during the two years, the Taliban ruled, Moscow did not engage in any serious economic projects or political partnerships with the Taliban. Nor did the Chinese, who kept their embassy in Kabul and tried to develop personal and political contacts with the Taliban administration only in their security tasks. During the two years of the Taliban's rule, Beijing has only decided to undertake one real and very modest project - to extract oil from one of the wells in northern Afghanistan, I think in Sari Pul Province. Nothing more than that," Serenko said.

    As for the US, he noted that talk of plans to open an American embassy was nothing more than speculation.

    "US officials deny it. Kazakhstan's activity in contact with the Taliban is also a strange phenomenon. I think it is due to some external requests (from Qatar, which acts as the Taliban's proxy in Central Asia and has started investing money in Kazakhstan). Kazakhstan's security interests may play an important role here - there are many Kazakh militants in Afghanistan, and Tokayev's government would like to have an idea of their plans," the pundit concluded.


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