Central Asian leaders meet as Taliban advance in Afghanistan

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The leaders of five Central Asian countries met for talks in Turkmenistan on Friday, with the spiral of war in neighboring Afghanistan topping their agenda as US-led forces withdraw.

The talks in the town of Avaza, east of the Caspian Sea, come as the Taliban challenge Afghan government forces in several large cities after weeks of advances in rural areas, including in provinces near the three former Soviet territories. that border the country: Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov called Afghanistan “the issue that worries us all” on Wednesday when state television showed him hosting his Tajikistan counterpart Emomali Rakhmon for bilateral talks leading up to the summit.

Meanwhile, Russia participated in joint military exercises near Afghanistan’s borders in both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, while a senior Kremlin military official flew to the region on Thursday to observe the exercises and hold talks.

Fighting in Afghanistan’s long-running conflict began to escalate in May, when the United States and other foreign forces began a withdrawal that will be completed by the end of the month.

In June, the Taliban seized Shir Khan Bandar, Afghanistan’s main crossing with Tajikistan, while Kabul troops were forced to withdraw to both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in recent weeks during heavy fighting with the group.

The Taliban have insisted that they have no intentions on Central Asia and have established official contacts with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as it presents itself as a government on hold.

But analysts argue that a growing security vacuum in the country may pose its own threats to Central Asia, as well as to the region’s growing economic cooperation with Kabul.

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