The new hard reality in Afghanistan, with the country back under Taliban rule after 20 years, has promptedneighboring nations including Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran to rapidly reassess the prospects of investment projects that essentially depend on Kabul’s support and cooperation.
There are relatively few such projects but some of those that do exist are quite sizeable and strategic.
While many are celebrating, others fear Taliban victory will embolden Islamic militant organizations operating in Pakistan
The statement came from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), otherwise known as the Pakistani Taliban, congratulating the Afghan Taliban on their “blessed victory”.
For many, this message was an ominous sign of what the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan could mean for Pakistan. While politicians, clerics, military officers and even the prime minister, Imran Khan, were among those in Pakistan celebrating the establishment of Taliban rule – Khan describing it as Afghanistan breaking “the shackles of slavery” – there are deep concerns that it will embody powerful Islamic militant organizations operating in Pakistan.
These militant groups are fighting for Pakistan to adopt a similar model of strict and repressive Islamic governance seen under Taliban rule in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, and which many believe will once again be imposed.
TTP, which is a banned militant group in Pakistan responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks, had already been making resurgence recently. The group is an offshoot of the Afghan Taliban and their ties and shared ideology are undeniable; in the past, senior Taliban figures have been made TTP leaders.
Among the first prisoners released by the Taliban in Afghanistan last week was the TTP deputy chief, Faqir Muhammad. Even senior military leaders in Pakistan are reporting to have admitted recently to lawmakers that the Afghan Taliban and TTP are “two faces of the same coin”.
Many blame Pakistan for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, with whom it has historically always been friendly. Pakistan helped bring about and supported the first Taliban regime in 1996, and after the US invasion in 2001 Taliban leaders were given sanctuary in Pakistan, where they lived and regrouped for two decades.
Pakistan has been accused of turning a blind eye to the Taliban training camps in the remote and rugged border regions. Madrassas – Islamic religious schools – across Pakistan have been found to be key recruiters of jihadist militants, sending young men to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Yet many fear that Pakistan is playing a risky game by supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan while simultaneously fighting against TTP in Pakistan.
Though Pakistan has downplayed its influence over the Taliban, internationally the country is paying a price for its apparent tolerance of the group. Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar told the Guardian that perceived support of the Taliban had isolated Pakistan at the UN as well as proving to be a diplomatic failure. “If we are seen to align ourselves with a regressive force then we will be doing a great injustice not only to the people of Afghanistan but even Pakistan,” said Khokhar.
US-Pakistan relations, long in tatters, had also been further soured by US belief that Pakistan should “do more” to use its leverage with the Taliban to ensure peace in Afghanistan.
The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a social movement for the human rights of the Pashtuns living in the Pakistan areas bordering Afghanistan, said it had already seen an escalation in target killings, extortion and kidnappings carried out by the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan’s border areas.
Turkmenistan is another country neighbor to Afghanistan.In February, a Taliban delegation paid a surprise visit to Turkmenistan to restate support for the planned Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.
The fortunes of Turkmenistan’s battered economy almost entirely hinge on gas sales to China. The other customer, Russia, buys just small amounts. Thus, TAPI is a crucial element of the Turkmens’ search for badly needed additional revenues. The Taliban have also made encouraging noises as regards proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) high-voltage power transmission lines and railways that would run from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, given the huge risk factor caused by investors’ lack of trust in a fundamentalist group like the Taliban (whose financial fortunes are built on producing opium and heroin), running a regime that has essentially emerged out of a military coup, Turkmenistan will have its work cut out securing the financing for TAPI, TAP and other Afghanistan-dependent-projects.
Uzbek President ShavkatMirziyoyev is the point man for those ambitious to see the landlocked economies of Central Asia properly linked in trade and investment to those of South Asia, such as Pakistan and India. Of course, without stability in and cooperation from Afghanistan, the idea will remain a pipe dream.
But Mirziyoyev is nothing if not persistent and in mid-July, addressing the international conference “Central and South Asia: Regional connectivity. Challenges and opportunities”, which took place in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, he expressed the hope that a united Central Asia and South Asia, together with the whole Eurasian continent, could become a stable, economically developed and prosperous space.
Mirziyoyev talked of a vision in which a Termez-Mazar i Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway, running from Uzbekistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan, would become a key element of the architecture of interconnectedness between Central and South Asia. Uzbekistan is also ambitious to develop routes through Afghanistan that would give it access to the oceanic ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Chabahar in Iran for export-import purposes but, even before the fall of Kabul, the Uzbek leadership was on record as acknowledging the ascendancy of the Taliban and appeared prepared to envision a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan that would include the group prominently. That much emerged from an interview granted last month by Uzbek Foreign Minister AbdulazizKomilov to US journalist Dennis Wholey.“We must know about Afghanistan that there is no … military solution,” Komilov said in the English-language interview. “We think that this problem must be solved on the base of mutual compromise between the existing government and the military opposition, the Taliban and others.”
Visionary ideas for Central Asia’s economic growth and closer ties to the economies of South Asia also reinforce the C5+1’s commitment to strengthening the region’s security and stability, including through Afghan peace negotiations”.
In June, Kyrgyzstan announced that the electricity transmission project CASA-1000 that it is developing with Tajikistan to send power to Afghanistan and Pakistan had been temporarily suspended because of corona crisis impacts. The investment had anyway been moving along at a crawl so it’s not as if the pre-suspension schedule for project completion by 2023 had been entirely believable, but once ready to move forward the investment will need to seek security guarantees from the Taliban the way that Turkmenistan will have to with TAPI
In March, reports said Tajikistan was aiming to supply 1,300 MW to Pakistan via Afghanistan under CASA-1000 project. Under the original terms, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were meant to jointly supply 1,300 MW to Pakistan. Tajikistan has also said it is planning to export 75bn kWh of electricity via CASA-1000 over 15 years after the project completion.
Once Donald Trump got cracking with his campaign to strangle Iran’s economy, it became rare to find any big Iranian investment projects not struggling against US sanctions, but one project that has enjoyed a sanctions-free emergence is the development of Iran’s only oceanic port, Chabahar on the Sea of Oman.
The Chabahar project, being jointly delivered by Iran and India, was seen as so important to Afghanistan’s economic prospects that US officials decided to leave it alone. Its Pakistani rival, Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, a short distance from Chabahar, is being jointly developed by Islamabad and China.
The Taliban and Shi’ite Iran have long been enemies but if some mutual accommodation can be found other projects to check for progress are the first rail link between Afghanistan and Iran—the Khaf-Herat railway, which when built could also facilitate Turkey-Afghanistan trade via Iranian rail access—and wind farm projects on the Iranian-Afghan border. Analysts say that with 30,000 MWe potential of wind power capacity, the Iran-Afghanistan border area is one of the world’s most windy regions.