AFGHANISTAN: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
The Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) held its seventh meeting in Ashgabat. This forum was established in the mid-2000s with the view of consolidating the efforts of the countries of Central, South and South-West Asia to address Afghanistan's pressing issues by promoting regional cross-border economic cooperation through political dialogue, confidence building and joint work in the areas of trade and communications, energy, natural resources and business-to-business contacts.
The Ashgabat Conference was one of the most high-level meetings of RECCA. It brought together the delegations from the countries of Asia, Europe, North and South America, Oceania, twenty-eight international organizations, including specialized UN agencies and bodies, as well as a number of non-governmental organizations and mass media. According to observers, it was evidence of recognition of Turkmenistan's proactive and consistent role in assisting Afghanistan to reconstruct its economy and social sphere and fully integrate the country into the current regional and global economic processes.
It is not accidental that Ashgabat adopted such an approach towards the Afghan agenda. Turkmenistan, being an immediate neighbor of Afghanistan, pays special attention to relations with this country, supporting the establishment of lasting peace and harmony in the neighboring country. The fundamental point in Turkmenistan's position on this matter is that it strongly believes that a political settlement in Afghanistan can be achieved only through peaceful diplomatic means. On this basis, Ashgabat offers its political space for establishment under the UN aegis of a broad national dialogue between all the constructive forces and stakeholders in Afghanistan. At a meeting with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Ashraf Gani in April 2017, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov confirmed his readiness to work seriously in this direction, using all political and organizational resources, including the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, the activities of the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, the Istanbul process mechanisms. In this regard, Turkmenistan reasonably counts on the consistent support and assistance of the international community and its neighbors in the region.
Without addressing the key issues such as restoration of the destroyed infrastructure, development of the economic and social sphere, integration of Afghanistan into the processes of normal civilized life it is difficult to talk about stabilization in Afghanistan and eventually the future of this country. At the Conference, Turkmenistan confirmed its confidence that economic growth, creation of new jobs, implementation of large-scale social programs, improvement of the material well-being, educational and cultural level of people will have a beneficial effect on the political situation in Afghanistan, decrease the likelihood of conflict situations, cut the social and economic ground from under the feet of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking and will give hope to millions of Afghans for a better future. At the same time, international assistance must be effective, targeted and specific.
Implementation of large-scale infrastructural projects jointly with Afghan partners, especially in the important areas such as energy and transport, is the most important factor for political stabilization, economic and social reconstruction of Afghanistan and its successful integration into regional and global economic processes. This is how Afghanistan can be transformed from the recipient of the foreign economic and financial aid, despite all its importance, into a full-fledged participant and partner in the broader integration process. Ashgabat believes that this is a strategic roadmap for Afghanistan, its role in regional and global processes, a guarantee of well-being and prosperity for the Afghan people.
In this regard, the conference noted the special importance of the project on construction of the TAPI (Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan - India) gas pipeline. According to preliminary estimates, other than direct gas supplies to Afghanistan, the project will secure about 1 billion USD for Turkmenistan's budget as payment for gas transit alone. In addition, conditions will be provided for opening of more than 12 000 new jobs in the Afghan provinces located along the route of the pipeline. Turkmenistan is currently building its own stretch of the pipeline, and the sides are working together on technical issues related to laying the route in Afghanistan.
A railway from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan is another important project. Construction of the first phase of the railway along the route Atamurat - Imamnazar - Akin was completed in the autumn of 2016. The sides are actively cooperating on the issue of the railway construction in Afghanistan. In the long term, it is planned to extend this railway to the border with Tajikistan. The project aims to make Afghanistan an integral part of the regional transport infrastructure with the prospect of accessing the Asia-Pacific region. Therefore, Afghanistan has a real chance to become a participant in the international transport corridors North-South and East-West passing through Central Asia.
In the same context, a project on construction of the Afghanistan - Turkmenistan - Azerbaijan - Georgia - Turkey transport corridor looks very promising. By now, the sides have already agreed on the main provisions of the five-sided agreement.
Given the upgraded capacities of the domestic infrastructure, Turkmenistan is prepared to significantly increase electricity supplies to Afghanistan, and it is currently working on implementation of another international project to supply Turkmen electricity via the Turkmenistan - Uzbekistan - Tajikistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan route (TUTAP). Ashgabat has also initiated a project to supply Turkmen electricity to Afghanistan and further to Pakistan through Afghanistan's power systems. So, the implementation of these projects will help to actually transform Afghanistan from the recipient of electricity into a transit country and immediate participant in the regional electricity cycle with all the ensuing positive consequences and benefits. In this regard, there is an urgent need for construction of new power facilities in Afghanistan. Turkmen specialists are working jointly with their Afghan counterparts to this effect.
Ashgabat believes that the consistent, substantive political-diplomatic and financial-economic support to these projects on the part of the international community is, in fact, a direct support to Afghanistan's desire to overcome the long-term stagnation and regress. The future of this country depends largely on the extent and scope of international involvement in these projects.
Expansion and diversification of trade and economic relations is an important contribution to the successful reconstruction of Afghanistan's economy. It was stressed at the Conference that big, medium and small enterprises from the regional countries and other countries should engage more actively and boldly in business activities in Afghanistan, develop cross-border trade, establish various forms of cooperation in production of industrial goods, agriculture, services and other areas. Afghans have centuries-old experience and traditions of trading with their neighbors, and they have something to offer their partners. It is important to help the Afghan private sector to get a new start and fully integrate into regional and international trade and economic relations on a mutually beneficial and long-term basis.
Other than working through the international format, Turkmenistan has long provided Afghanistan with targeted economic and humanitarian support, such as construction of medical and educational institutions in the neighboring country, preferential supplies of electricity, training of Afghan students in Turkmenistan's educational establishments, regular dispatch of humanitarian convoys to Afghanistan and other types of assistance. All this support comes at Turkmenistan's expense. As was reported at the Conference, such support will be provided on a regular basis in accordance with Turkmenistan's special program on construction of social and trade facilities in Afghanistan.
In general, Turkmenistan is in favor of taking specific and targeted measures in support of Afghanistan that would demonstrate the international community's determination to achieve its goals, its solidarity in the face of objective difficulties and confidence in the ultimate success. It requires collective, united efforts based on goodwill, mutual trust and support of the entire international community represented by the United Nations, other big and well-known international and regional structures as a necessary condition that can direct Afghanistan's development into the creative, progressive and irreversible path.
According to the Declaration adopted at the Conference, RECCA, guided by its goals, is a relevant international format of cooperation attuned to present-day realities that can adequately assess and respond to the specific challenges faced by the region and Afghanistan, as an integral part of it. The most important aspect of joint work is the fact that the RECCA countries and organizations build their relations based on common approaches, common understanding of goals and prospects for cooperation.