Saturday, May 23, 2015

Disaster Brewing on Afghan-Turkmen Border Seen Hitting All of Central Asia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 23 – More than 900 ethnic Turkmen families, perhaps has many as 5,000 people, are caught between Taliban forces and Turkmenistan whose government is refusing to allow them entrance and asylum lest they bring violence in their wake, lead to the rerouting of Turkmen natural gas now flowing to China, and provoke the destabilization of Ashgabat.


            Despite the efforts of Kabul forces, Viktoriya Panfilova of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports, the Taliban are seizing ever more territory in the border area, leaving the ethnic Turkmens there without food, medicine or other supplies and prompting them so far without success to try to enter Turkmenistan (


            Omar Nessar, head of the Moscow Center for the Study of Contemporary Afghanistan, says that Ashgabat’s refusal to take them in reflects its judgment that among them are violent groups opposed to the Taliban that want to come into Turkmenistan and take power there, something that could happen if Ashgabat continue to refuse to take help from other states.


            Some of these may be Islamist and have links to groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Nessar says, but others may simply be traditionalists, descendants of Turkmen clans who fought as basmachis in the 1920s and 1930s and then fled to Afghanistan when Moscow established control in the republic.


            These groups kept quiet, the Moscow expert says, until the 1990s, but at that time, many of them tried to return home and demand either their property back or compensation for it, neither of which Ashgabat was prepared to agree to. But now such groups have become more active once again, and one aspect of their moves is especially worrisome.


            Some of them, Panfilova points out, have seized oases in the location of the Southern Iolotan-Osman gas fields whose production is intended for China.  Were they able to block that flow, Ashgabat would be the loser and China almost certainly would be likely to consider some form of intervention.”


            Another Russian expert on Central Asia, Aleksandr Knyazev, pointed out that “the Turkmen Talibans have already taken under their control almost all the territory along which potentially would pass the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline,” a development that could also destabilize Ashgabat.


            According to Knyazev, “Ashgabat is being forced to re-direct its export pipelines; and in the event of harsh counter-measures from Iran and Russia [the only two countries with larger natural gas holdings than Turkmenistan] could get involved in the conflict in the Caspian,” a development that would transform this border issue into an unpredictable disaster.


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