Uzbek merchants be taught to do enterprise with the Taliban

As lorries arrive in bursts of mud at a logistics hub in Uzbekistan’s southern metropolis of Termez, squatting drivers share complaints about how commerce has suffered for the reason that Taliban seized energy next-door.

“Earlier than, our journey there and again took three days, now we’re there for per week,” mentioned Rafik Khujakov, an Uzbek who makes common deliveries of beans to the Afghan metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif and brings again potatoes.

“Their folks do not know how one can work the computer systems!”

Khujakov mentioned the Taliban had cracked down on border corruption, however corporations and drivers had been dropping cash due to prolonged delays.

“They test and recheck one another. It has turn out to be very troublesome,” he moaned, in a chorus echoed by a number of different merchants on the hub.

Greater than two months after the Taliban seized energy in Afghanistan, border merchants in southern Uzbekistan are however discovering that it’s potential — if difficult — to do enterprise with the non secular hardliners.

Landlocked Uzbekistan, which as soon as hosted US-led coalition forces that toppled the Taliban, has taken a business-first strategy to the group, as corporations within the ex-Soviet Central Asian republic search a path to ports in Pakistan and Iran.

Central to that effort is the Termez Cargo Centre, a logistics hub opened 5 years in the past to coordinate cross-border commerce, primarily to Mazar-i-Sharif 60 kilometres (40 miles) away in northern Afghanistan.

– New challenges –

Commerce with Afghanistan was all the time troublesome, however enterprise homeowners in Termez mentioned the Taliban takeover has introduced a brand new collection of challenges.

One firm proprietor informed AFP his prices had grown as a result of his drivers — all Afghan nationals with visas for Uzbekistan — refuse to journey past the Afghan border crossing at Hairatan, fearing they won’t be able to return.

This implies his firm should pay totally different drivers on the opposite aspect for onward journeys, defined the businessman, who gave solely his first title Ahmad due to considerations for family dwelling in Afghanistan.

“I see nothing good on this group coming to energy,” mentioned Ahmad, an Afghanistan-born Russian citizen.

On the Afghan aspect of the “Friendship Bridge” that spans the width of the Amu Darya river, the Taliban authorities’s head of customs at Hairatan denied claims of delays.

“There is no such thing as a such factor. All businessmen are happy… They’re happier than underneath the earlier authorities. The products transfer via customs extra rapidly,” Abdul Sattar Rashid mentioned.

For Afghanistan, Hairatan “is the primary or second most vital (border crossing) by way of earnings,” mentioned Rashid, on a morning when AFP correspondents noticed a number of vans and two trains, every pulling about 30 wagons, going over the bridge.

Uzbekistan’s bilateral commerce with Afghanistan stood at $776 million in 2020, up 1 / 4 from the 12 months earlier than.

Previous to the Taliban takeover, Kabul and Tashkent had plans to extend that to $2 billion by 2023.

– Prepare via Taliban territory? –

A undertaking was within the works for a railway from Mazar-i-Sharif to the Pakistani metropolis of Peshawar by way of Kabul, which might open up prospects for transfers of bulk items like coal.

However it could take years to construct, and securing financing for the undertaking is more likely to be troublesome given the Taliban’s worldwide isolation.

Nodir Jalilov, the top of the Termez Cargo Centre, is satisfied there are nonetheless robust prospects for the hub, which obtained three humanitarian assist shipments certain for Mazar earlier this month.

“Our centre has a giant future by way of commerce transiting (Afghanistan) to ports in Pakistan like Gwadar and Karachi,” he informed AFP.

“After all, the phrase ‘Afghanistan’ nonetheless frightens businessmen.”

The railway was one in all a number of matters mentioned at mid-October talks in Termez between a Taliban delegation and Uzbek authorities, who’ve stopped wanting recognising the brand new authorities, regardless of warming ties.

One other was electrical energy, which Uzbekistan has mentioned it would proceed to provide to Afghanistan regardless of the cash-strapped authorities’ failure to pay for it.

Amrullo Sadullah, a charismatic Afghan businessman who moved to Uzbekistan within the Nineteen Nineties and is now a industrial accomplice on the hub, got here to work bleary-eyed after staying up till the early hours of the morning consuming tea with the inquisitive delegation.

“What did they need to know? All the things! How folks right here dwell, what Afghanistan should purchase, what Afghanistan can promote,” he mentioned, dismissing his private views of the Taliban and its insurance policies as irrelevant.

In recent times, an increasing number of Afghans have been establishing store in Termez, mentioned Sadullah, who predicted a vibrant future for the sleepy city of 200,000 folks.

“While you come to Termez once more in 5 years, you’ll not recognise it!” he promised.

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