Turkmenistan is delivering on its commitments to restore sustainable economic growth in neighboring Afghanistan with firm support from the United Nations for realizing a series of ambitious projects masterminded by the Caspian country.
In a nationwide address on Tuesday, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow highlighted joint plans to provide assistance to Afghanistan via two specific projects, namely the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline; the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey trade, transit and transport route, also known as Lapis Lazuli; and the integral Turkmenistan-Aqina railway.
The UN Security Council adopted unanimously a resolution on March 8 to extend the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) through March 17, 2019. The Mission’s mandate is supporting Afghanistan’s full assumption of leadership and ownership of its security and enhancing governance and versatile development in the Central Asian country.
The UN urged that stakeholders move forward with the Turkmenistan-lead TAPI and Lapis Lazuli projects, as well as touted the Turkmenistan-Aqina railway segment as among key measures to strengthen the process of regional economic cooperation, including measures to facilitate regional connectivity, trade, and transit network.
“A special role is assigned to the measures being implemented by our state to revive the socio-economic infrastructure of Afghanistan,” Berdimuhamedow said in his address.
“The practical implementation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project began in December 2015, and recently the construction of the Afghan section of this gas mainline was started. Our country does a great job in the field of transport. As a help to the Afghan people, two new railways were built and commissioned: Kerki-Imamnazar-Akin and Serhetabat-Turgundi.”
As part of international efforts to help Afghanistan revive its economy, Turkmenistan initiated the $10 billion TAPI gas pipeline, which will supply about 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per year from Galkynysh gas field in southeastern Turkmenistan to western and southern territories of Afghanistan, as well as central Pakistan and northwestern parts India. Five bcm out of the entire volume will be absorbed by Afghanistan, while Pakistan and India will receive 14 bcm for each.
In Afghanistan, the 1,814 kilometer TAPI pipeline will be laid alongside the Kandahar-Herat Highway on the western edge of the country, and then enter Pakistan via the cities of Quetta and Multan. The pipeline’s final destination is the Indian town of Fazilka, about 420 kilometers from India’s capital New Delhi. Construction of the route’s Afghan portion started in February 2018.
Despite deep discord between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the TAPI project seems to be uniting both sides for the same purpose.
Taliban rulers, who reportedly identify TAPI as a “national infrastructure project,” took a side by the Afghan government in the light of realizing the project and vowed to remain committed to safeguarding the pipeline.
According to Voice of America, Qari Mohammad Yusuf Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesperson, announced in an email statement in February that they view this project as an important element of the country’s economic infrastructure, said, “its proper implementation will benefit the Afghan people; we announce our cooperation in providing security for the project in areas under our control.”
Turkmenistan’s contribution to economic rebirth of Afghanistan is not about only energy relief, however.
The $2 billion Lapis Lazuli transport and trade project of Turkmenistan will help Afghanistan to ship its goods to the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the European market in the shortest possible time. The route includes railroads that pass through the Afghan cities of Aqina in the north and Torghundi in the west, and link to Turkmenistan’s Turkmenbashi port city along the Caspian Sea and Atamyrat city on the northeast. President Berdimuhamedow and his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Gani launched the railway from Atamyrat to Aqina customs facilities in northern Afghanistan in November 2016.
A maritime connection between Turkmenbashi and Baku cities enables a sea transport to Azerbaijan, located in Transcaucasus corridor to Turkey and Europe. Railways in the Transcaucasus allow for good traveling along the route to traverse Tbilisi, Poti and Batumi cities in Georgia, before reaching Kars and Istanbul in Turkey.
In Turkey, the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey or the Lapis Lazuli rail mainline will connect to the Middle Corridor Project, or the East-West Trans-Caspian Trade and Transport Corridor, which links Turkish markets to those in Europe.
The name Lapis Lazuli derives from a historic trade route that had been integral to the legendary and ancient transcontinental Silk Road. Precious lapis lazuli stone, which has been mined and coveted since the seventh millennium B.C., was transported along that route from Afghanistan to as far away as modern-day Mauritania in Africa.