ASHGABAT -- Implementing joint infrastructure projects is key to helping ensure stability and peace in Afghanistan, Afghan and Turkmen officials say.
Delegations from the two countries, which included politicians, diplomats, civil servants overseeing various economic sectors, and business leaders, discussed priorities for co-operation during the latest visit of Turkmen officials to Herat, Afghanistan, June 15-17.
While both countries have their own interests in implementing joint infrastructure projects in energy, transport and communications, those "interests largely coincide", said a meeting attendee from the Turkmen side, who requested anonymity.
Turkmenistan, which shares a 744km-long border with Afghanistan, hopes to route Turkmen electricity and natural gas through the country to promising markets in South Asia and open up a new source of foreign currency income, say observers.
"However, this is not an end in itself. For Turkmenistan, it is important that peace be restored with its neighbour, so that the blood stops flowing on that side of the border and so that Afghans are engaged in peaceful work," said Esenmyrat Amanov, an Ashgabat-based political analyst.
Afghanistan's economic revival will bring peace and tranquillity and allow it to be integrated in regional processes, said Amanov, adding that implementing infrastructure projects will bring the country significant economic gains.
In particular, income from the transit of electricity and gas through its territory, new jobs and a well-developed transportation and communications infrastructure will fuel that growth, Amanov added.
"By solving its own problems, Ashgabat is helping Afghans rebuild their lives in a peaceful and tranquil setting," he said, referring to the Turkmen search for new markets.
Co-operation brings results
Given the potential economic growth, development of Afghanistan's electrical infrastructure in connection with an increased volume of power supplied by Turkmenistan was one of the main topics of discussion among the delegations in Herat, attendees said.
The participants "agreed to string an additional transmission line from our border to Andkhoy, Afghanistan, as well as a transmission line between the [Afghan] villages of Khamyap and Garkin, which are densely populated by Afghanistan's ethnic Turkmen", said Akmyrat, a representative of the Turkmen power utility Turkmenenergo, who declined to give his full name.
For many years, Turkmenistan has been supplying electricity to Afghanistan at preferential rates.
Co-operation between the two countries in electricity has been more productive than in the gas industry, where, despite Turkmenistan's efforts, the planned Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline -- with a capacity of 33 billion cubic metres of gas per year -- is still under construction, said Akmyrat.
"Deliveries of electricity, on the other hand, are only increasing," he added.
Currently, electricity from Turkmenistan reaches Afghanistan through three lines: Kerki–Imamnazar–Andkhoy, Serkhetabat–Herat, and Rabatkashan–Qala-e-Naw.
In Herat, officials of energy companies from both countries signed an agreement to extend exports of electricity through December 2020, the Turkmen source said.
Betting on TAPI
Still, the dominant topic of discussion was TAPI, delegates said.
TAPI will stretch 1,840km and is scheduled to begin pumping natural gas from the Galkynysh gas field in Turkmenistan by the beginning of 2020. It is expected to help ease energy shortages in South Asia and generate revenue for the four countries it traverses.
The Iranian regime, which is adamantly opposed to TAPI as it poses a direct threat to rival pipeline projects that go through Iran, has made several attempts to sabotage it, including supplying arms to Taliban members in the country to attack the pipeline.
With its completion, Turkmenistan would gain an additional gas export route, while Afghanistan, in addition to receiving its own volume of gas, would pocket $1 billion in annual income and would net 12,000 jobs by transporting it on to other countries, local Turkmen analysts say.
Turkmenistan has already completed the work on its section of TAPI, according to Turkmen press reports. In February 2018, work on the Afghan section began.
"Living conditions are visibly improved" in districts that already have electricity and liquefied gas, according to a meeting attendee from Afghanistan.
"Implementation of TAPI will even more quickly hasten Afghanistan's revival," said Amanov.
Private business contribution
Turkmen businesses are becoming involved in work to stabilise Afghanistan.
The delegates in Herat discussed exporting Turkmen textiles, besides laying Aqina–Andkhoy and Torghundi–Herat sections of railway, according to attendees who asked not to be identified.
Talks between members of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (TUIE) in Turkmenistan and the leaders of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Herat Province also resulted in a decision to create two additional joint enterprises.
One of these is a poultry farm in Herat Province, a meeting attendee and member of TUIE told Caravanserai.
According to various sources, 3.5 million to 4 million ethnic Turkmens live in Afghanistan. The diaspora is concentrated in 34 districts of the provinces of Kunduz, Faryab, Jawzjan, and Balkh; 13 of those districts border Turkmenistan.
"We are overwhelmed with joy when the mass media report another round of economic or humanitarian aid from our historical homeland, because any assistance is a step toward a better life," said Vakhid, an ethnic Turkmen who lives in Herat.
Turkmen funds have helped establish a maternity ward in Torghundi and a mosque in Andkhoy, along with a school and shopping centre, according to Vakhid.
"On top of all this, we receive dozens of tonnes of flour, gasoline and other goods as assistance. Dozens of Turkmen-Afghans study at universities in Turkmenistan. When you think about all this, you're filled with joy and pride," he said.