S. Berdynizov took an active part and contributed to the support of the international legal status of the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan at the ECO summit in Islamabad in March 1995. He is one of the organizers and a direct witness of the establishment and development of political and diplomatic relations between independent Turkmenistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In particular, during his work as Ambassador, mutual visits were organized at the highest and high levels, namely the first President of Turkmenistan S. Niyazov in 1995 and 1997, as well as in September 1995, the visit to Turkmenistan of the President of Pakistan Faruk Ahmet Khan Leghari, and two years later – the Prime Minister of Pakistan, MN Sharif.
And in November 2011, the first official visit of the President of Turkmenistan, Hero of Arkadag Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to Pakistan was successfully completed, which meant the beginning of a new dynamic stage in the history of the two nations.
It should be noted that the National Bank of Pakistan operated in Turkmenistan since 1996, with a full banking license. The bank’s website says that the opening of the Ashgabat branch meets the aspirations of the Pakistani government to strengthen economic and trade relations between the two countries, as well as to give impetus to the promotion of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. The practical confirmation of this was the creation of organizational and legal foundations for cooperation. In particular, on May 30, 2002, the leaders of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan signed in Islamabad an agreement “On projects of gas and oil pipelines Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan”.
At the same time, it should be noted that despite numerous meetings and negotiations, this transnational project remained on paper most of the time. But, with the coming to power in early 2007 in Turkmenistan of the leader of a new generation – President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the real contours of the energy strategy of the Turkmen state were outlined. It was thanks to the efforts of the Head of Turkmenistan that the active phase of the implementation of the “project of the century” began – the construction of a gas pipeline along the route Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India. As part of the December 12, 2010 celebration of the 15th anniversary of permanent neutrality, the three presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the Minister of Oil and Gas of India, held a summit and signed an intergovernmental agreement on the implementation of the TAPI gas pipeline.
“The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline is not just a mutually beneficial energy and economic project,” G. Berdimuhamedov noted at the summit. “It should become an example when, in the presence of political will and constructiveness, the main goal is achieved – ensuring a balance of interests of producers, transit countries and consumers of energy resources.” As the Turkmen leader further emphasized: “The start of the construction of this gas pipeline is the result of the implementation of the policy of our neutrality, the implementation of one of its fundamental principles – to live in peace and harmony with neighbors, to develop mutually beneficial economic and trade relations with them.”
The TAPI project, in fact, is significant as a creative all-Afghan project that offers an alternative to the military methods of establishing peace in this country. Indeed, for the construction of the gas pipeline, it will be necessary to create an extensive infrastructure – to build, first of all, modern roads – auto and rail, to lay power lines.
It should be noted that the implementation of the powerful hydrocarbon potential of Turkmenistan almost from the first years of independence faced the problem of entering the foreign market. The prospects for laying gas routes from Turkmen fields to the South and West served as one of the triggers for the launch of the trans-Afghan project. Speaking of gas production, let’s say that in 1990 the republic produced and supplied to the centralized market of the Soviet Union 85-90 billion cubic meters of gas annually. After the collapse of the USSR, Turkmenistan found itself virtually isolated from the gas markets, and besides, it did not have gas storage facilities. This led to a decrease in production, which in 1995-1996 fell to 35-38 billion cubic meters per year.
The produced gas was supplied to the CIS countries (mainly to Ukraine) through the Russian pipeline system. After Turkmenistan’s refusal in March 1997 from the services of Gazprom, gas production fell to the level of 12-15 billion cubic meters of gas per year, which had an extremely negative impact on the development of the fuel and energy complex of Turkmenistan and almost the entire national economy.
At the same time, the potential and prospects for the release of energy resources, or rather hydrocarbons, from the vast gas-bearing areas of the Turan lowland and the oil “pantries” of the Caspian Sea to the international arena in the mid-1990s turned Central Asia into a region of “vital US interests.” The New York Times estimated in 1998 that “Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan together hold over 100 billion barrels of oil, making the Caspian the world’s third largest oil reservoir (after the Persian Gulf and Siberia) and one of the world’s key centers of geopolitical and geoeconomic importance.”
At the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Islamabad, under the leadership of S. Berdyniyazov, scrupulous analytical work was established with specific calculations and proposals. The center demanded guarantees of the capacity of the “southern” hydrocarbon market, the presence of real partners or potential competitors, price ratios, and so on. A new turn in the foreign policy situation came on May 25, 1997, when Pakistan recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, followed by the United Arab Emirates on May 27.
It must be said frankly that for many years after the end of the “Afghan war” of the Soviet Union, the veteran Mujahideen, and then even the Taliban movement, perceived the northern borders of Afghanistan by inertia as the land of “Shuravi”. It was very, very difficult to convince them of the opposite, that their northern neighbors already had a new life there, the former republics were no longer “Soviet”, but “independent”. One of the evidence of this is some episodes during the assault on August 8, 1998 by the Taliban of the key city of Mazar-i-Sharif and their entry into the northern borders of Afghanistan. The forward detachments of the Taliban in binoculars examined the border Uzbek and Turkmen villages while pronouncing “shuravi, shuravi …”. But, to their credit, the borders of the then young Central Asian states remained secure. Thus, one of the strategic assumptions of S. Berdyniyazov, expressed in a series of cipher messages, that the “Afghan cauldron”, boiling even at the maximum, most likely will not overflow into what were the northern borders of the country. In those dramatic days of the arrival of the Taliban in Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the first who managed to get in touch with them were, by chance, young employees of the consulate of Turkmenistan in this city, who were fluent in Pashto and Dari, down to some local dialects.
It took a lot of effort to establish a conversation and conduct a dialogue in a more or less calm tone, and most importantly, the situation required a share of fearlessness and courage, and at least with a “protocol” smile on his face. In the bearded and armed crowd, driving around in brand new TOYOTA pickups and scribbling victorious salutes with black Kalash(nikovs), there were their own intellectual authorities, who realized that they really were not “Shuravi”, but real diplomats.
But this was after a few salutes of automatic bursts over the heads, which added a significant dose of adrenaline to the veins of our guys, who still had not yet got rid of the anxiety of uncertainty on the part of the jubilant Taliban. Some calm came shortly after receiving the encryption from Islamabad, where the Ambassador informed that the Taliban were guarding and would ensure the security of the personnel and the building of the Turkmen consulate.
Now, while representatives of the “different”, but humanly “same” youth were drinking tea and laughing heartily, and our ambassador in Islamabad, who was aware of the events in the “24/7” mode almost without sleep, had no time for laughter. For he, foreseeing the development of events and on behalf of the Center, has been conducting preliminary and difficult negotiations for several days with some leaders of the Taliban in Kabul and their representatives in Pakistan to ensure the integrity and security of the diplomatic missions of Turkmenistan in Afghanistan, including in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Here we can make a remark that the Taliban movement actually arose not on a wave of resistance to the Soviets, but on the contrary, as an expression of the aspirations of young students of the madrasah to stop the fierce intra-Afghan massacre after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan by the late 80s and early 90s of the last century .
The trigger was an event when Mullah Omar, a young but already experienced Mujahideen veteran, decided to gather like-minded people because of the terrible massacre near Kandahar. As Pakistani author Kamal Matinuddin writes in his memoirs, “On September 20, 1994, a family traveling from Herat was stopped at a checkpoint near Kandahar by a group of bandits calling themselves Mujahideen.” Men and women were immediately separated from each other. The girls were raped and killed. The same fate befell the boys. As a result, the bandits, leaving the scene of the crime, partially set fire to the corpses of all members of this family to smolder under the sun.”
Omar, the first to arrive at the scene of a terrible tragedy, gathered his Taliban students and buried the bodies of the dead according to Muslim rites. They say that after that, Omar, who had previously left the war against the Shuravi and decided to engage in the peaceful profession of a teacher as a mullah, was again forced to pick up a machine gun. Within a fairly short time, the Taliban movement grew out of a small group of Omar’s supporters, which now, decades later, has returned to the Afghan scene again, turning into an active factor not only in regional, but possibly in world politics.
About the author: Begench Saparovich Karaev, defended his doctorate in philosophy in April 1996 in Moscow, published several monographs and dozens of articles on the theory and methodology of political analysis, including in relation to the conditions of the traditional Central Asian society. Starting from 1997, over the next almost a decade and a half, he headed the information and analytical structure of the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan. From April 2004 to February 2005, he conducted research and lectures at Indiana University Bloomington (Indiana University Bloomington) as part of the targeted program Fulbright for Visiting Scholars (USA). Currently, he is a senior lecturer at the IIR of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan.
To be continued.
///nCa, 23 December 2022