Turkmenistan hopes to quickly build stronger economic ties to Afghanistan now that it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban, with authorities in China, Russia and Pakistan providing political support for the country’s new leadership.

In an interview with SkyNews, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen highlighted the Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan – India (Tapi) gas pipeline and a proposed rail connection between the two countries as “long-term priority projects”.

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“We hope to start them [soon]”, Shaheen said.

During their visit to the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat earlier this year, Taliban representatives had also discussed a third project to build an electricity export line from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, according to local reports.

Bridge and connectivity

“Afghanistan is a bridge between Central Asia and South Asia and [the new government] will work to enable connectivity” between these regions, according to Shaheen.

“Our goal is to provide prosperity to our people," he added.

The Tapi pipeline is strongly promoted by Turkmenistan as a solution to diversify its export routes and remove the cap on its natural gas production. The pipeline is proposed to carry 33 billion cubic metres of gas from the Galkynysh group of prolific fields in the south-east of the country.

Of the approximate 1840 kilometres total length, some 1600 kilometres of the Tapi pipeline will be laid in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the route terminating at the town of Fazilka in India near its land border with Pakistan.

Turkmenistan has already built the short segment of the pipeline within its territory to its border with Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan gas ambitions

Turkmenistan currently delivers the bulk of its gas production to China via an export infrastructure across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, comprising three lines, with some shipments going to Russian gas monopoly Gazprom via an old Soviet-era route across Kazakhstan.

The route to China is understood to have been running at a maximum capacity before the coronavirus-related slowdown in demand, preventing Turkmenistan from increasing gas production at Galkynysh — one of the largest global gas discoveries — while Gazprom prohibits Turkmenistan from transiting its gas to Ukraine and the rest of Europe.

The authorities in Ashgabat have seen a strong recovery in demand for its gas this year, with the country's output growing by 9 billion cubic metres to almost 48.7 Bcm between January and July, compared with last year.

Out of that volume, gas export shipments grew by 7.3 Bcm to 27 Bcm, with authorities resuming efforts to discuss a proposal to build a fourth export pipeline to China.

This pipeline, under discussion for several years, is proposed to run via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, whereas the three existing lines reach China via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.