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Soft Power Practices in Uzbekistan Foreign Policy and Afghanistan

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It is known that the Soviet Union was one of the two poles in the international system during the Cold War. In the process it is mentioned, the Soviet Union which is leading the Eastern Bloc carried out an ideological, economic and geopolitical struggle with the United States, which was the leader of the Western Bloc. The Soviet Union, which implemented a strategy of expansion and dissemination of ideology in the context of geopolitical competition, tried to invade Afghanistan in 1979. In order to support its army during the occupation process, Soviet government built the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge, it is also known as Hayraton Bridge in Tirmiz; however, the Soviet government, which could not establish the order it wanted in Afghanistan, was forced to withdraw from this country in 1989.

After Uzbekistan declared independence, regional dynamics changed. With Shevket Mirziyoyev as President in the following period, Uzbekistan implemented a new policy to solve the Afghanistan problem. Because Mirziyoyev appears to have adopted a multifaceted, constructive, cooperative and consensus-oriented attitude in foreign policy. Because Mirziyoyev appears to have adopted a versatile, constructive, cooperative and consensus-oriented attitude in foreign policy. As a consequence of its policies and promotion of cooperation processes, Tashkent has become one of the most significant centers of regional peace and stability.

Especially at a period when various actors are trying to get a share of Afghanistan, Tashkent administration has shown the world that it has adopted a different mission. This mission has three dimensions within the framework of international, regional and bilateral relations.

Uzbekistan, in international dimension, was held in Tashkent on July 15-16, 2021 with the ” Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities”. Through this conference, regional and global actors were given the message that they should prefer peace and stability in Afghanistan and contribute to the construction of peace.1

As understood, Uzbekistan has adopted a principle solving regional problems peacefully with the Mirziyoyev’s leadership. One of the most concrete examples of this is border and water problems with its neighbours. His disputes with Kyrgyzstan over borders and water were resolved by Mirziyoyev’s concrete steps and the problems in relations were overcome.

Similarly, Uzbekistan wants to establish a basin of peace and cooperation in the heart of Asia as context of its recent cooperation with other countries in the region. Tashkent is also trying to build a bridge between Central Asia and South Asia. The most important project aimed to be implemented in the construction process is Tirmiz-Mezar-i Sherif Kabil-Peshawar Railway.

Accordingly, it is planned to establish the geographical link between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan through the Friendship Bridge. The railway project in this question only one example of Afghanistan’s inclusion in the process of cooperation in the region.

Looking at the dimension of bilateral relations, it is understood that Mirziyoyev used economic relations as a means of soft power in establishing peace. Uzbekistan; It seeks to create free trade zones with its border neighbours such as Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. It did the same with Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, where many states of the world come with weapons, Tashkent’s administration established free trade zones, offering the Afghan people the chance to trade and breathe. Thus, both economic relations developed and it became easier for the two societies to get to know each other.

In June 2018, Uzbek and Afghan authorities decided to establish a free trade zone in Tirmiz city of Uzbekistan.[1] Tirmiz is one of the key points between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It can be said that the city that is located on the border of Afghanistan is in a strategic location. Tirmiz was one of the main centers during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.[2] While the Soviet Union withdrew, it had completed the process through Tirmiz. The Counter-Hanabad Air Base, where the United States deployed its troops in Uzbekistan after the september 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, was also in Tirmiz.[3] The city is connected to many cities of the country and region with various railway networks. In addition, the importance of the city will increase with the implementation of the Tirmiz-Mezar-i Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar Railway.

It can be said that the free trade zone established in Tirmiz has given great pace to bilateral relations. At the same time, the region also plays a critical role in increasing the welfare level of peoples and creating jobs. On the other hand, the free trade zone in Tirmiz has the potential to be a center of attraction for foreign investors. Therefore, it is likely that it will gain an international qualification. For this reason, regional peace must be established. With the policies pursued by Uzbekistan today, it is not done by military means; It is understood that both sides are trying to realize it by peaceful means in which they have mutual interests. In fact, at a time when the possibility of terrorism and civil war is being discussed on the Afghanistan Issue, it can be said that Tashkent’s peaceful moves offer a roadmap for other states.

Uzbekistan is leading the process of building a basin of peace and stability both in Afghanistan and in the heart of Asia using soft power elements. Because, as Mirziyoyev points out, the security of Afghanistan is the security of Uzbekistan. Of course, this situation is also of great interest to Central and South Asia.[4] Undoubtedly, Uzbekistan’s attitude towards Afghanistan reveals the fundamental difference in the approaches of regional actors and imperial powers. Therefore, the fact that regional problems should be solved by the states of the region is seen once again. Tirmiz etc. projects will undoubtedly play a significantrole in accelerating and consolidating this process.


[1] Zabihullah Jahanmal, “Afghanistan, Uzbekistan To Establish Free Trade Zone”, Tolo News, https://tolonews.com/business/afghanistan-uzbekistan-establish-free-trade-zone, (Date of Accession: 17.09.2021).

[2] Marina Pikulina, “Uzbekistan in the Mirror of Military Security: A Historical Preface to Current Events”, Conflict Studies Research Senter, K27, 1999, https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/92601/99_Nov.pdf, p. 6, (Date of Accession i: 17.09.2021).

[3] “Uzbekistan’s Closure of the Airbase at Karshi-Khanabad: Context and Implications”, Every CRS Report, https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20060329_RS222954f97732b6b30a4671efb594442a61629f24968ec.pdf, (Date of Accession : 17.09.2021).

[4] “Shavkat Mirziyoyev: Afghanistan’s Security is Uzbekistan’s Security”, Uzreport, https://uzreport.news/politics/shavkat-mirziyoyev-afghanistans-security-is-uzbekistans-security, (Date of Accession : 17.09.2021).

Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı
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