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The Future of TAPI and the Taliban’s Approach to the Project

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After 20 years of war, the Taliban has once again dominated Afghanistan. This situation has made the future of regional-global projects launched through Afghanistan controversial. Because the Taliban’s approach is important in whether the projects are implemented or not. One of the projects put forward through Afghanistan is the “Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline” (TAPI). The project envisages the transportation of Turkmenistan’s natural gas to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan.[1]

The line is planned to start from Galkinis Natural Gas Field of Turkmenistan and pass through Herat-Farrah-Kandahar cities of Afghanistan and reach Fazilka city of India via Quetta-Mutlan cities of Pakistan. The project was conceived in 1997, signed between four states in 2010 and implemented in 2015. It is known that an average of $8-10 billion is needed to implement the project.[2]

Afghanistan is one of the important partners of TAPI. Because a significant part of the pipeline passes through this country. The Turkmenistan part of the project has been completed and feasibility studies in Afghanistan have been started in 2018. However, the war and instability in Afghanistan have made it difficult to implement the project. According to the agreement concluded, under TAPI, Afghanistan will purchase cheap natural gas within the framework of the right of transit. In this regard, the right of annual transit of 500 million dollars to Afghanistan was recognized and it was envisaged that it would purchase 3 billion cubic meters of natural gas within 30 years. According to the agreement, Afghanistan will purchase 500 million cubic meters of natural gas in the first decade, 1 billion cubic meters in the second decade and 1.5 billion cubic meters in the third 10 years.[3] In October, the project will create employment opportunities for thousands of Afghan citizens and the country will be able to strengthen its industry with the cheap natural gas it has obtained.

Taliban officials declare that they want to turn Afghanistan into an area of cooperation, not competition, saying that they are pursuing an economically oriented foreign policy on every platform, and that economic projects involving regional states will be given importance. In this context, the most emphasized project of the Taliban is TAPI.

The implementation of the project will lead to an increase in the popularity of the Taliban both among the Afghan people and the international community. As a reminder, historically, the preparatory work of the TAPI began during the early period of the Taliban. Nowadays, the Taliban aims to implement this unfinished project and improve its relations with the regional states. Taliban leaders have been meeting with the authorities of Turkmenistan and Pakistan on TAPI and expressed their support for the implementation of the project. In December 2021, the Taliban Ministry of Internal Affairs shared a plan for the security of the project with the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Kabul.[4]

Turkmenistan is the state that attaches the most importance to the implementation of TAPI. Turkmenistan, which ranks fourth in the world in terms of natural gas reserves, considers TAPI a state project and makes maximum efforts to implement it. Because Turkmenistan can generate significant revenues by exporting 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year under TAPI. Because of this, Turkmenistan considers the Taliban to be an actor who can cooperate, albeit de facto. Although Turkmenistan does not officially recognize the Taliban Government, it maintains relations at the ambassadorial level.

The authorities of Turkmenistan often visit Kabul and Islamabad and hold talks on the implementation of the TAPI. September February 2022, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Vepa Hajiyev, during his visit to Afghanistan in February 2022, stated that the Afghanistan part of TAPI will be implemented from September 2022. In a message published on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Pakistan, Turkmenistan President Serdar Berdymukhamedov called for the development of bilateral relations and the quick implementation of TAPI.[5] Pakistan and India are two states which aim to open to the Central Asian market via Afghanistan. The two countries are therefore seen to have an interest in TAPI.

The factors which contributed to the heavy lifting of the TAPI by Turkmenistan; The Taliban’s reign of domination of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s warmth of regional co-operation projects, and India’s need for Turkmenistan’s natural gas at the point of economic sustainability. Because the Mujahideen groups that seized power in 1992 failed to share power amongst themselves, and the Taliban were supported by Pakistan and Turkmenistan as a security-building actor. However, even though Ashgabat’s leadership has made a number of attempts at implementing the project, it appears that there are still serious problems.

At the beginning of the problems is the increasing instability in Afghanistan, especially the activities of the so-called Khorasan Emirate (ISKP) of the terrorist organization State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Although the Taliban claims that security is maintained in all of Afghanistan, the ISKP attacks Shiite mosques, Taliban soldiers, and neighboring states from the territory of Afghanistan. For example, there have been reports of this organization attacking Tajikistan. In addition to the threat of ISIS, there is no consensus yet between the Taliban and the opposition. In this context, the opposition groups, especially the Penshir Movement, emphasize the military option. There have already been violent clashes between the Taliban and elements of the Penshir Movement.

The second challenge facing the project is the lack of recognition by the Taliban government and the financial challenge it faces. As a matter of fact, the Taliban government has not yet been recognized by any state or international organization. This makes it difficult for world states to forge a formal agreement with the Taliban. It is also claimed that the project needs $10 billion to be implemented, and that it has already withdrawn the support of banks that said it would finance the project. For example, the Asian Development Bank announced that it was withholding financial support for TAPI. The bank also cited the non-recognition of the Taliban government.[6]

Another of the challenges facing the project is India’s and Pakistan’s competition for Afghanistan geopolitics. Both of these states have occasionally sought to weaken the position of the other in Afghanistan through their administrators who have established close ties with the other.

Finally, Russia and Iran’s approach can cause problems with the project. Because both Moscow and Tehran are not keen on Central Asian resources reaching South Asia. Both states export energy to South Asian countries. Iran wants to sell gas to Pakistan and India as part of the Peace Pipeline Project. Russia regards India and Pakistan as an important market in the face of Western sanctions. Russia and Iran are the states that have significant influence on developments in the region, particularly Afghanistan. The United States may, in turn, support the TAPI to reduce South Asian states’ dependence on Russian and Iranian gas. In the 1990s, Unocal, the US energy company, was known to have invested in TAPI and supported the Taliban to provide security in Afghanistan.

As a result, TAPI can transform Afghanistan from a competitive area into a co-operation area. It can contribute to establishing peace and security in the country through mutual dependence of states in the region. But for that to happen, it is imperative that the interests of regional actors come to a reasonable position and that the parties start seeing each other as equal stakeholders rather than isolating each other.

[1]  “طالبان: پروژه تاپی با تملک زمین آغاز می‌شود”, İribnews, https://l24.im/dm, (Date of Accession: 10.05.2022).

[2] “وزارت خارجه طالبان: ترکمنستان کارعملی پروژه تاپی را در ماه سپمبر آغاز می کند”, DW, https://l24.im/Rw19KWN, Date of Accession: 10.05.2022).

[3] “آیا کار عملی پروژه تاپی در افغانستان از سر گرفته می‌شود؟”, DW, https://l24.im/aRv, (Date of Accession: 10.05.2022).

[4] طالبان طرح امنیتی پروژه‌ی تاپی را به ترکمنستان ارایه کردن, Etilaatiroz, https://www.etilaatroz.com/137101/the-taliban-presented-a-security-plan-for-the-tapi-project-to-turkmenistan/, (Date of Accession: 10.05.2022)

[5] أکید رئیس جمهور ترکمنستان بر اتمام پروژه «تاپی»”, Farsnews, https://l24.im/kG6U5F, (Date of Accession: 10.05.2022).

[6] روژه خط لوله «تاپی» تا زمان «به رسمیت‌ شناختن» حکومت طالبان متوقف شد”, AL-Arabiya, https://l24.im/jvJRMD, (Date of Accession: 10.05.2022).

Ahmad Khan DAWLATYAR
Ahmad Khan Dawlatyar, 2013 yılında Kunduz Üniversitesi Hukuk ve Siyaset Bilimi Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Siyaset Bilimi Anabilim Dalı’nda “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti ve Afganistan İslam Cumhuriyeti Anayasalarında Güçler Ayrılığı İlkesi Üzerine Karşılaştırmalı Bir Analiz” başlıklı teziyle 2019 yılında almıştır. Çeşitli bilimsel etkinliklere katılan Dawlatyar, Afganistan sorunuyla ilgili bildiriler ve makaleler sunmuştur. Bu kapsamda “Afganistan Sorununun Dini ve İdeolojik Nedenleri” başlıklı sunumu yayınlanmıştır. Halihazırda Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. ANKASAM bünyesinde yürütülen çalışmalara katkıda bulunan Ahmad Khan Dawlatyar’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Afganistan ve Pakistan’dır. Dawlatyar, anadil seviyesinde Farsça, Özbekçe, Türkçe ve Peştunca dillerine hakimdir. Ayrıca orta düzeyde İngilizce bilmektedir.