Turkmenistan hosted Afghanistan’s Taliban for talks Saturday, the Turkmen foreign ministry said, with the gas-rich state seeking security guarantees for major projects linking the two countries and the wider region.
Turkmenistan has forged strong ties with Afghanistan’s official government in recent years but has engaged in the past with the Taliban to win the group’s backing for its projects in the country.
A statement attributed to the Taliban and posted on the Turkmen foreign ministry’s website said the group had “expressed full support for the implementation of…infrastructure projects aimed at ensuring well-being and prosperity for Afghan people”.
A series of tweets by the Taliban’s spokesman late on Saturday acknowledged the talks in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat and said “security of the boundaries of both countries” had also been discussed.
Turkmenistan and Afghanistan last month inaugurated the latest wave of transport, power and communications links as the ex-Soviet republic touts its role rebuilding Afghanistan’s conflict-torn economy.
One ongoing project is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) power project sourcing electricity from Turkmenistan, which is part-financed by the Asian Development Bank.
Another is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, known as TAPI, which is vital to Turkmenistan’s bid to ease dependence on China’s purchases of its natural gas.
The TAPI pipeline would transport more than 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually from Turkmenistan’s giant Galkynysh gas field, with energy-hungry India and Pakistan accounting for the bulk of purchases.
The section running through Afghanistan will be more than 700 kilometres (430 miles) long and the project has been weighed down for years by security and investment doubts.
The Afghan government has been locked in peace talks with the Taliban that began in September in Qatar, but they have so far failed to achieve any breakthrough.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad visited Turkmenistan as part of a tour at the beginning of the year that also took in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Qatar, where the Taliban has a representative office.
The new US administration of President Joe Biden has said it will review a US-Taliban deal signed last year, and has accused the Taliban of not reducing violence or cutting ties with Al-Qaeda as agreed.