It took Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan a little longer than their neighbors to articulate their stances on a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan.
Distance has its benefits, and since neither Kazakhstan nor Kyrgyzstan directly borders Afghanistan, the governments in Nur-Sultan and Bishkek could react more slowly to events than Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors to the north: Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Representatives of both the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments have finally met with Taliban officials, and so far, the policies of each of those Central Asian governments seem to be engagement aimed at keeping Afghanistan at arm’s length.
At the start of September, with nearly all Afghan territory in Taliban hands, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev warned that Kazakhstan needed to brace for “external shocks and a worst-case scenario."
“The situation in Afghanistan...presents us with the task of rebooting the military-industrial complex and military doctrine," Toqaev said.
However, on September 9, Toqaev said Kazakhstan was ready for “business contacts with Afghanistan."
At the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Dushanbe on September 17, Toqaev spoke in favor of initiating an “informal dialogue with the new authorities in Afghanistan."
On September 26, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry released a statement saying Ambassador to Afghanistan Alimzhan Esengeldiev had met with the “acting foreign minister in the interim government of Afghanistan Amir Khan Muttaqi."
According to the Taliban, Esengeldiev and Muttaqi discussed trade with the ambassador, noting that Kazakhstan has been exporting grain, flour, and fuel to Afghanistan and also pledging that Kazakhstan would provide humanitarian aid.
The Kazakh Agriculture Ministry said shipments of flour and grain to Afghanistan had already resumed.
On September 16, members of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) met in Dushanbe.
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov expressed concern that the situation in Afghanistan could adversely affect the security of CSTO countries, which include Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
According to a statement from the Kyrgyz president’s office, “the formation of a theocratic state in our region will undoubtedly negatively affect the current situation in the member countries” of the CSTO.
But on September 23, the Kyrgyz government sent a delegation led by the deputy chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, Taalatbak Masadykov, to Kabul.
Masadykov worked as a translator in Afghanistan when Soviet forces were there in 1987 and was also a specialist in a group of Soviet advisers from the Academy of Sciences who focused on Afghan tribal affairs and borders.
From 2002 to 2014, Masadykov worked for the United Nations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran region.
Masadykov’s delegation brought a shipment of humanitarian aid with it.
On September 23, he met with the Taliban's acting Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and also with Muttaqi.
Focusing On Trade
Commenting on the meetings with the Kazakh and Kyrgyz representatives, Taliban officials stressed that trade relations were the focus and repeated the Taliban's vow not to allow any group to use Afghan territory to plot attacks on neighboring countries.
It is worth noting that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan differ from their Central Asian neighbors in other key respects, beyond simply not directly bordering Afghanistan.
Although there are likely to be some citizens of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in militant groups in Afghanistan, they are reportedly far fewer in number than the citizens of Uzbekistan or Tajikistan who are there.
Further, groups like Jamaat Ansarullo, mainly comprising Tajik citizens, or the Islamic Jihad Union or the scattered fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which are made up mostly of Uzbek citizens, all aim to overthrow governments back in their homelands.
No group in Afghanistan has publicly stated as its goal the overthrow of the Kazakh or the Kyrgyz government.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are also interested in bringing their ethnic kin out of Afghanistan.
Kazakhstan flew 35 ethnic Kazakhs out of Afghanistan on September 9, and Kazakh authorities have already arranged to resettle them in five regions of the country and provided them with stipends for their basic needs.
Sparsely inhabited Kazakhstan has been calling on ethnic Kazakhs around the world to make Kazakhstan their home under its so-called Oralman program, which was started shortly after 1991 independence.
There are also reportedly still hundreds of ethnic Kazakhs in Afghanistan who are seeking to leave for Kazakhstan.
No ethnic Kyrgyz from Afghanistan have arrived in Kyrgyzstan since the Taliban took control of nearly all of Afghanistan in August. But a group of 345 ethnic Kyrgyz from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province tried to reach Kyrgyz territory in July, only to be stopped in Tajikistan; they eventually returned to Afghanistan.
Some of the Pamir Kyrgyz from Afghanistan have resettled in Kyrgyzstan over the past two decades.
Immediately after the Taliban entered Kabul in mid-August, Kyrgyz Health and Social Development Minister Jypara Mambetova told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, that Kyrgyzstan was willing to take 1,200 Pamir Kyrgyz from Afghanistan.
Like Kazakhstan's Oralman program, Kyrgyzstan has its own scheme to attract ethnic Kyrgyz from abroad, known as the Kayrylman program.
On September 26, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov was shown shoveling cement into foundations for new housing for so-called Kayrylman in the Chong-Alai district of Osh Province in an apparent signal that Kyrgyzstan was ready to take in more Kyrgyz from Afghanistan.
The Uzbek and, especially, Tajik populations of Afghanistan are far larger. But neither Uzbekistan nor Tajikistan has shown any willingness to offer a new home to their ethnic cousins in Afghanistan.
Kazakhstan's and Kyrgyzstan’s overtures to the Taliban have been cautious, to say the least.
It is also notable the Kazakh Foreign Ministry’s statement on the ambassador’s meeting with Muttaqi never used the word “Taliban.”
But both countries have now established direct contact and seem to hope that gestures like sending humanitarian aid or maintaining trade ties will keep them further shielded from any Afghan spillover.