Turkmenistan and the Talibans

Mihail Păduraru
When it became independent Turkmenistan had been based on the export of raw materials, building new oil and gas pipelines, roads and railways.
Several alternative routes for the transport of raw materials, and export of natural gas, have been developed.
The leadership of the country encouraged the idea of a gas pipeline to Pakistan via Afghanistan.
Geographical factors such as low costs and good commercial prospects, made the Afghan route for transporting natural gas an attractive option.
The obstacles in taking this route were the sanctions imposed on Afghanistan by the international community and the lack of security guarantees for construction and future operation of the pipeline.
The attraction of the route, rather misled the Turkmen political leadership, not only resulting in a deviation from the proclaimed neutral regime, but also disrupting the regional security system being developed in Central Asia.
The idea of using Afghan route to transport the turkmen raw material to Pakistan, and further to the world markets, was born in May 1992 in the framework of consultation between President Niyazov and Pakistani Prime Minister.
In April 1994, during his visit to Ashgabat, a delegation of Pakistani Air Force led by Vice Marshal Farug Usman Haider signed a bilateral military agreement between the two countries.
In March 1995 in Islamabad, Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and Turkmen President Niyazov signed a memorandum on the construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the reopening of a road between the town of Haman in Pakistan and city Turgundion the Afghan-Turkmen border.
Such intensive meetings and the resulting agreements showed the determination of the parties to fulfill their objectives.
However, representatives of Afghanistan itself were not party to these agreements. Moreover, on March 5, 1995, that time President of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani, speaking to Radio Kabul, has sharply criticized the agreements that were concluded between Pakistan and Turkmenistan and the intentions behind them.
In particular, he described the plans as “Pakistani leadership’s attempts in helping the Taliban Movement opposition.”
Putting into practice the Pakistani-Turkmen agreements starts in the fall of 1994, when the cargo convoys began commuting between Turkmenistan and Pakistan across Afghanistan’s territory.
In late autumn of 1994, a group of Afghan Mujahideen confiscates a convoy which was going from Pakistan in Turkmenistan.
In order to secure its release, Pakistani Interior Minister has turned to a known religious sect, which has bases in the South of Afghanistan, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, long before this sect was to evolve into the Taliban Movement, which started its triumphant march through the Afghan territories and totally turned the political and military situation in the country.
The Turkmen President immediately set up a meeting with the, at the time, shadowy movement.
During the winter of 1994 after Taliban groups emerged on the Afghan-Turkmen border, a railway line was opened from Kushka (Turkmenistan), to Turgundi (Afghanistan), with an intense commercial exchange.
It is not yet known what has been transported then in freight trains guarded by armed forces.
Turkmen officials, argue that “the Turkmen part, provided humanitarian assistance to the brother people of Afghanistan.”[1]
At that time, the population of Turkmenistan, was in an acute economic need, which included humanitarian assistance …. !!
The country was passing through a crisis without precedent.
There are serious doubts about the humanitarian shipments of that time !
In September 1996 when Taliban units have quickly begun to take control of the provinces in the East of Afghanistan and the capital city, Kabul, few have given attention to the evolutions in there, or the role played by the political leadership of Turkmenistan in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.
In October 1996 a consultative meeting of the heads of states from Russia and Central Asia was held in Almaty, to consider the situation in the region, after the capital city Kabul had been occupied by the Taliban.
At that meeting took part presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan at the time, ignored the invitation from the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and did not take part in the meeting, citing his country’s neutral status.
The Security Council of Central Asia has appointed a group to analyze the situation in Afghanistan and prepare proposals for measures to stabilize the situation near the border with Afghanistan.
Also, the Security Council of Defense Ministries was assigned to work on proposals to ensure borders security.
In addition, the participants at the Conference in Almaty also recommended to the UN Security Council to convene an emergency session on the issue of Afghanistan.
Commenting on the results of the meeting in Almaty and explaining his abstention, Niyazov declared: “Being neutral, Turkmenistan does not intend to take part in such meetings. Everything that happens in Afghanistan is the internal affairs of the Afghan people, and we should not see the Taliban movement as a threat to our security.
For more than a year, part of the Turkmen-Afghan border was controlled by representatives of this movement, and this section of the border, is by far the quietest today.”
The situation was even worse, because of drug trafficking across the border, which was growing.
Following these events, Niyazov’s refusal to take part in the meeting in Almaty, had other reasons …
… that the if Taliban movement, controls the southern part of Afghanistan, it might be advantageous for Turkmenistan.
It could finally allow president Niyazov to see his dream come true: the construction of an oil and gas pipeline, to Pakistan and India, for the  transport of the natural resources of Turkmenistan.
On October 7, 1996, 2 days after the meeting in Almaty, Iglal Haider Zaidi, a special envoy of Pakistani Prime Minister, was metby President Niyazov. After the meeting, both sides have agreed that the vision of Turkmenistan and Pakistan on the situation in Afghanistan coincide.
The course of events showed exactly why Pakistan and Turkmenistan are interesred that the Taliban extend its influence over the Afghan territory.
On 27 October 1997, President Niyazov signed a protocol with the head of an American oil company to build a Turkmenistan-Afganistan-Pakistan pipeline.
When they questioned the security of the Afghan section of the pipeline, President Niyazov declared that there is no reason for concern, because it has reached agreements with all parties involved.
All of the Afghan territory where the duct passes was controlled by the Taliban.
A year later, the american oil company Unocal suspended participation in the project and explained its decision, amid hostilities raised between the Taliban and the North Atlantic Alliance, in the context of serious deterioration of relations between the Taliban and the United States, followed by US missile strikes on terrorist bases in Afghanistan.
President Niyazov declared that “no one should seek to keep someone in a partnership against his wish, and is going to continue to look for partners, and ultimately, the project will be successfully implemented.”
Taliban leadership, came out with a similar statement at a news conference in Kabul. Amir Han Muttaki, Taliban Minister of Information, said that:
“there are several companies interested to get a contract to build the pipeline, and while most countries are concerned about Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, we will make the final choice to complete the project.”
Later Turkmenistan intensified diplomatic efforts to accelerate the project and to ensure its security.
In 1999, Turkmen Foreign Minister meets with the spiritual leader of the Taliban and they have discussions on the construction of pipelines.
Also at that time, Foreign Minister of the Taliban regime visited Asgabat and signed official economic agreements.
In November 1999 a military delegation headed by Turkmen Prime Minister visits Pakistan for five days, during which time they have many meetings and discuss about the security of future pipelines, and extend their military cooperation.
It is noteworthy that diplomatic activities between Turkmenistan and Pakistan, wich aimed to use Afghan territory for commercial purposes, practically coincided with military and terrorist activities of the Taliban movement.
Meanwhile terrorism and drug trafficking in Central Asia are growing and allegations about sponsorship of terrorist acts by the Taliban, came not only from the leaders of Central Asia, but also from the international community.
In July 1999 the US imposed economic sanctions on the Taliban movement.

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