ADHERING TO PRINCIPLES OF GOOD NEIGHBORLINESS
The official visit by President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to Turkmenistan took place against the background of a noticeable intensification of bilateral cooperation in the energy-transport and communication spheres.
Above all, this is about the TAPI (Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan - India) gas pipeline project, the Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan power transmission lines and the Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan fiber-optic communication line that were built last year, and the launch of a new railway from Turkmenistan's city of Serhetabat to Turgundi in Afghanistan. The successful integration of Afghanistan into regional and international economic processes through the implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects involving the Afghan partners in vital areas such as energy, transport and communications predetermines in many ways the prospects of political stabilization, economic and social reconstruction of the country.
This notion underpinned the multidimensional agenda of the Ashgabat meeting between President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and President Ashraf Ghani. Regional security was at the top of the meeting agenda. In this regard, a close and constructive Turkmen-Afghan interaction is intended to be one of the key factors for achieving this goal.
Being committed to the principles of the UN Charter and highly appreciating its peacekeeping potential, the presidents of the two countries reaffirmed their willingness to provide every kind of support to the United Nations in creating instruments for prevention and neutralization of conflicts in the region and developing relevant political and diplomatic mechanisms.
In this context, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov reiterated a stance that he repeatedly said earlier. Turkmenistan, as a neutral state and an immediate neighbor of Afghanistan, is ready to ensure all necessary conditions for holding direct talks between all parties interested in a peaceful, political settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. It is clear that there is no alternative to the negotiation process. All the previous experience has proven that coercive methods have no prospects and cannot lead to consensus and reconciliation.
Regional security cannot be ensured without effective countering terrorist threats. During the talks, both leaders reaffirmed their countries' determination to continue close bilateral cooperation in this area and interaction with international structures. In this respect, the integrated implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, closer and coordinated actions guided by the jointly adopted documents, in particular the 2011 Ashgabat Declaration, the Joint Action Plan for Central Asia are a decisive factor. Turkmenistan and Afghanistan also agreed at the bilateral and multilateral level to continue countering drug trafficking, organized cross-border crime and other illegal activities.
Implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects jointly with the Afghan partners was the most important topic of the talks. Other than the above-mentioned TAPI project, construction of power transmission lines and fiber-optic communications across the Afghan territory, Turkmenistan offers the Afghans new joint projects of local importance. In particular, this is about Turkmenistan's readiness to arrange at its own expense exports of natural gas through the Kelif - Shybyrgan gas pipeline that was operational in the past. The relevant industry departments of the two countries have already held talks to this effect.
As the Turkmen leader noted during the talks, the sides also actively develop bilateral cooperation in the field of electric power engineering. The Rabatkashan - Kalainau power transmission line was commissioned last year. It is expected that a similar power transmission line will be built along Hamyap - Garkin route.
Engaging Afghanistan in projects on establishment of a large-scale transport infrastructure in the region is the most important task. The construction of a 10-kilometer section at Akina railway station is currently under way. Turkmenistan also stands ready to discuss preparation of a techno-economic project to extend this railway to the city of Andkhoy.
The five-sided cooperation on the implementation of the Lazurit project (multimodal transport line along the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey route) is in the active stage. With a view to coordinating all the issues relating to creation of this major transport corridor, the sides plan to continue regular meetings between the ministers of transport of the countries participating in this project.
Overall, as Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov emphasized, Turkmenistan is ready to participate actively and effectively in the process of stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan, restoration of its economy and creation of conditions enabling the Afghan people to participate constructively in the development of their country.
As regards the bilateral trade and economic cooperation, it is developing quite well as a whole. For example, trade turnover amounted to some 684 million US dollars in 2018, which is much higher compared to the same indicator in 2017.
Both presidents agreed that at the same time it is important to search for opportunities to increase and diversify this cooperation. In particular, this can be done by engaging medium and small size businesses in the economic partnership. They need to develop the markets of the two countries more aggressively, develop cross-border trade, establish various forms of cooperation in areas such as production of industrial goods, agriculture, services and other areas. Turkmens and Afghans boast centuries-old experience and traditions of mutual trade, entrepreneurship, and they have something to offer each other.
The humanitarian component is an indispensable aspect of the ongoing bilateral cooperation. Under a special program of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, Turkmenistan built a school in Balkh province, a rural hospital in Faryab province and a maternity hospital in Herat province. Construction of social facilities in Afghanistan will be carried out in the future.
Turkmenistan and Afghanistan also cooperate closely in the area of education. After graduating from Turkmenistan's education establishments, hundreds of Afghan boys and girls landed jobs in the civil service and other sectors of the economy of their country. Afghan students currently study at a number of Turkmenistan's higher education establishments, including the agricultural, pedagogical, energy institutes, the International University of Oil and Gas and the Institute of Transport and Communications. Gurbanguly Bedimuhamedov emphasized that education of Afghan students in Turkmenistan would continue.
The sides also confirmed their readiness to increase cooperation in the scientific and cultural fields, exchange of delegations of artists, joint study of the richest and original historical heritage of the Turkmen and Afghan peoples.
Summing up the talks, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov noted that brotherhood, good neighborliness and the common historical heritage provide a basis for cooperation between the two states. These principles are crucial for the strategy of Turkmenistan in relations with Afghanistan that are reciprocated by sincere gratitude and trust of the neighboring country and international recognition of Turkmenistan's effective contribution to ensuring reconciliation and harmony in Afghanistan, restoration of its economy and social sphere, giving millions of Afghans a hope for a peaceful life.