Connectivity and Conflict Mediation: What Afghanistan and Turkmenistan Hope for From Their New Strategic Partnership
President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani and President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement on February 21 in Ashgabat.
In a speech following the signing, President Ghani stressed that the relationship between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan is about connectivity. Along those lines, he praised the Lapis Lazuli Corridor and added that the first priority on Afghanistan and Turkmenistan’s joint agenda is its expansion. The corridor is a massive infrastructure project involving roads, railways, and maritime routes to connect Afghanistan to Turkmenistan, then (via the Caspian) to Azerbaijan and Georgia, and finally through the Black Sea to Turkey and Europe. It opened in December after the multinational agreement on its route was finalized in 2017, and the first imported goods arrived in Herat, Afghanistan just last week. President Ghani explained that now that the corridor is up and running, the next step is to make it “completely reliable.”
His second priority is transmission lines. Specifically, he hopes to see 300MW of power sent to northern Afghanistan through Aqina and another 220KV line connecting Mary, Turkmenistan, to Herat. However, according to Ghani, these exchanges are “just the beginning,” as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan transmission line continues to unfold. Construction of TAP lines began just over a year ago in February 2018; in that time, Turkmenistan has consistently increased its supply of electricity to Afghanistan. Even before TAP, Turkmenistan sent electricity to its neighbor via the Ymamnazar-Andhoi and Serhetabat-Herat routes.
The final priority President Ghani identified is railways. Turkmenistan and Afghanistan recently agreed to construct two new railways connecting their countries: one from Aqina to Andkhoi, and another from Torghundi to Herat.
President Berdimuhamedov placed a greater emphasis on the security dimension of the agreement, noting that bringing peace to Central Asia and implementing the United Nations Global Counterterrorist Strategy was one of the “key directions” of the document. He also added that Turkmenistan, as a neutral state, was willing to help orchestrate direct talks between Taliban representatives and the Afghan government. So far, Taliban negotiators have refused to meet with current Afghan officials.
Afghanistan’s conflict is a persistent point of concern for Turkmenistan, who shares 500 miles of border with the restive country. Earlier this year, the Turkmen government launched a drive to register all men under fifty for the army reserves, a move sources within the Defense Ministry said was linked to the “tense situation along the border.”
However, as the recent agreement shows, these concerns have in no way hindered the almost-fraternal relations between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. In many ways, the agreement was simply codifying what already existed. Many of the projects related to the new strategic partnership were already well under way, including all three of the initiatives President Ghani listed as priorities. As ever, engagement with Afghanistan is marred by security issues, but such
engagement is likely the best remedy to the longstanding conflict, as it gives the rest of Central Asia a stake in the country’s success. Turkmenistan and Afghanistan seem poised to build a connection even deeper than the one they already enjoy—something that will be beneficial to both countries.