A bold, if not to say sensational statement was made on 8 March by one of Afghanistan's prominent politicians. The former Minister of Energy and Water Resources, ex-governor of Herat province and once influential field commander 71 y.o. Ismail Khan, accused the Turkmen government of supporting the Taliban militants by supplying ammunition to Herat Province.
The statement sparked a mixed response among the readers of the Chronicles of Turkmenistan website. Some were puzzled by the allegation of providing ammunition to those who attack our border checkpoints whereas others simply refused to believe that the authorities collaborate with those who kill their own residents.
As was expected, the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Herat has denied allegations of ammunition supplies to the Taliban.
Can it be true?
If one recalls some of the recent news reports, non-related at first sight, a clear picture may be formed against the background of which the statement made by the Afghan politician sounds not so improbable.
In February the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute published a report which concludes that Turkmenistan actively purchases various arms.
At the same time, for several years Taliban militants have been making plundering raids on Turkmen checkpoints at the Turkmen-Afghan border. After shooting border guard officers, they confiscate trophy arms and retreat back to Afghanistan.
It is obvious that the 18 year old Turkmen conscripts, doing their military service on the border, failed to offer any adequate resistance to militants who have spent their entire life on the battlefield, and the new armaments will hardly help. Probably the arms they purchased were designed not for them but were supplied through the border as buy-out.
Private security agency Taliban
However, border security is one of probable reasons of the Taliban's support. A more convincing reason for the attempts undertaken by the Turkmen authorities to come to terms with the Taliban is ensuring the safety of the TAPI pipeline, a project which is absolutely vital for Turkmenistan
In April 2016 the official authorities of Afghanistan gave their assurances that they would undertake all necessary measures to ensure the security of the pipeline. However, it is unlikely that the authorities of Afghanistan will be able to find the required resources to guard 735 kilometers of the gas pipeline, stretching along the territories which are under control of armed insurgents (including Herat). Even if there are numerous military units which will be totally responsible for ensuring the pipeline security then the question arises who will pay for their services and by how much will it increase the cost of gas supplies?
At the same time, in December 2016 the Taliban made a statement of their readiness to support the construction of the TAPI pipeline and even offered willingness to be involved in ensuring the project's safety! Probably it was at that time that negotiations were held and some agreements between the Turkmen side and representatives of the Afghan guerilla movement were reached.
Ashgabat cannot officially acknowledge links with the Taliban as this will be understood neither in Afghanistan � whose official government supports Turkmenistan in all possible ways, nor in Turkmenistan � since it will be challenging to explain this to the residents who, thanks to word-of-mouth, are aware of what is going on at the border and who is shooting Turkmen soldiers.
However, it would be extremely reckless to ignore the presence of the Taliban when building the gas pipeline on their territory. One way or another, an agreement needs to be reached. At the same time, verbal agreements cannot be accepted as a reliable basis for concluding long-term contracts with the end users � Indian and Pakistan.
Even if the Taliban movement will now fully support the TAPI, no one can guarantee that views and interpretations of the oral agreement will not change over time when the militants will exercise an all-pervasive control of the pipeline.
This fact will also scare away the final importers of gas. As is known, Turkmenistan concludes contracts to supply gas only up to its borders and does not accept responsibility for its further transportation. This poses many questions. Who will be held accountable in case of a terrorist attack if a gas pipeline is exploded, and who will provide compensation? Moreover, will India and Pakistan take these risks into account and make plans to use gas which might simply disappear one day? Will they demand a much lower price for the gas which has already became cheaper in exchange for these risks?
All or nothing
Turkmenistan is facing a very complicated dilemma.
It appears that the Taliban, to put it mildly, is not a partner with an impeccable reputation, but without the approval of the Afghan rebels the pipeline project will not be implemented, and TAPI will remain one of the few hopes of Turkmenistan as a solution � or at least some stabilization � of the country's economy, which is experiencing a severe crisis.
Source: Chronicles of Turkmenistan