PEACE TALKS MAY OPEN AFGHAN ROUTE FOR TURKMEN GAS.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 67

On April 4 and 5 Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat hosted consultations between the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Lahdar Brahimi and leaders of the alliance that hold out in northern Afghanistan against Taliban authorities. During the talks, the "northern alliance" leaders — including the runaway President Burhanuddin Rabbani — agreed in principle to a Taliban proposal to form a conciliatory committee of all parties to the civil war. According to the proposal, the committee would then convene a commission of the ulema to work out a peaceful settlement of the conflict and outline the country’s future political system. Brahimi had just conferred in Islamabad with the Taliban leadership and carried their proposal to the northern leaders in Ashgabat.

Representatives of the "six-plus-two" contact group on Afghanistan held a parallel meeting in Ashgabat and discussed proposals for an embargo on arms deliveries to the Afghan belligerents. Set up last December, the group consists of representatives of the six countries that border on Afghanistan, plus the United States and Russia.

Turkmenistan President Saparmurad Niazov and Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov were cited as urging an early peace settlement that would make possible the construction of a transit corridor from Central Asia via Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. The Turkmen leaders outlined the plans for the transit corridor, entailing oil and gas export pipelines and a highway. They sought to impress upon the "northern alliance" leaders both that all Afghan sides would profit from the transit revenue and that the employment opportunities would result. (International agencies, April 4 through 6)

The U.S. company UNOCAL is a prime mover of the plan. Taliban leaders are supportive, and their movement controls most of Afghanistan and the proposed transit route. However, financing for the project is difficult to arrange while hostilities in Afghanistan continue and the country does not have an internationally recognized government. Moscow and Tehran, as contact group members, are not interested in allowing Turkmenistan — and potentially Kazakhstan — to use export routes that bypass Russia or Iran. These two countries oppose the Taliban. Turkmenistan, for its part, has a good modus vivendi with the Taliban authorities.

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