TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan and Afghanistan are working together to strengthen security in their turbulent region.
A major step in that direction came in Tashkent October 17, when the countries' foreign ministers signed an extradition treaty.
The treaty enables Afghanistan to set extradition in motion whenever it captures Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) militants. The remnants of that nearly shattered terrorist group declared their loyalty to the Afghan Taliban in June.
For Uzbekistan's part, it can turn over Afghan nationals who are serving time in Uzbekistani prisons for drug smuggling.
The IMU has not been a factor inside Uzbekistan since 2004, the last time it committed terrorist attacks inside the Central Asian country. However, radicalised Uzbekistanis continue to fight for the IMU in South Asia.
On September 27 in Jurm District, Badakhshan Province, Afghan troops killed five Uzbekistanis in combat, as Caravanserai previously reported.
Even inside Uzbekistan, some brainwashed residents are still listening to the IMU's message.
On November 1, "in Khorezm Province, Jasur Allaberganov, Jasur Kutlimuratov, Davron Karimov, Marks Khalmenov and Umil Khalmenov ... were convicted", General Prosecutor's Office spokesman Arif Atajanov told Caravanserai.
"They received sentences ranging from 6 to 16 years," he said. "This group was disseminating the extremism of the IMT [Islamic Movement of Turkestan, another name for the IMU]."
Treaty a landmark
Uzbekistan and Afghanistan have worked before on defusing extremism together. However, the extradition treaty signed by Afghan and Uzbekistani foreign ministers Salahuddin Rabbani and Abdulaziz Kamilov in Tashkent October 17 gives their law enforcement agencies even more power to co-operate.
"Both ministers described the occurrence as a positive sign of mutual trust and bilateral co-operation," Uzbekistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Farida Umarova told Caravanserai. "They agreed to set a date for ... Kamilov to visit Kabul."
The Uzbekistani militants still in Afghanistan now face the much greater likelihood of imprisonment in Uzbekistan if Afghan troops capture them.
That number is unknown but much smaller than before, Tashkent-based political scientist Valerii Khan told Caravanserai.
"After [the Taliban] crushed an IMU unit led by [pro-'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' IMU commander] Usman Ghazi last November ... the number of IMU supporters shrank dramatically," Khan said. "If the treaty works ... Uzbekistani citizens captured in Afghanistan can expect serious punishment back home."
Uzbekistan has formidable security but recognises that various militants in Afghanistan still consider it a prize worth taking.
"ISIL terrorists don't hide that they don't need Afghanistan," Sayera Khojayeva, director of the Uzbekistani Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, said during a Tashkent conference October 17, according to Uzbekistani media. "They are interested in what's on the other side of the river -- Uzbekistan."
Conversely, Afghan nationals in Uzbekistani prisons could be affected by the treaty as well.
In 2015, Uzbekistani authorities arrested 33 Afghan nationals in connection with drug charges, according to the Uzbekistani National Information-Analytical Centre on Drug Control. The treaty empowers Afghanistan to start the paperwork on repatriating any Afghans serving out a sentence in Uzbekistan.
Humanitarian aid a possibility
Uzbekistan might have a role to play in humanitarian aid to struggling Afghanistan too.
On October 21, an organisation of CIS doctors, the International Committee for Humanitarian Co-operation with Afghanistan, wrote to acting Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The committee asked him to hold a humanitarian conference in Tashkent on helping Afghanistan.
"Transforming Afghanistan into a stable and peaceful state ... should be a strategic goal for the entire global community," committee chairman and surgeon Ashot Sarkisyan wrote in the letter.