Afghan Collapse Sounds Alarms in Central Asia

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The Taliban's swift victory in Afghanistan has set alarm bells ringing loudly in neighboring capitals and in the boardrooms of foreign energy companies in the region. Companies like Malaysia's Petronas and Italy's Eni, which are deeply embedded in Turkmenistan, and Russia's Lukoil, which has invested heavily in Uzbekistan, will be hoping the Islamist advance to Afghanistan's northern borders will not destabilize the area. Regional superpowers Russia and China may believe they have assurances of noninterference from the Taliban but the quest for Jihad, or Islamic holy war, may not stop at the gates. A US diplomatic source told Energy Intelligence there were three different Islamist factions in Afghanistan, dominated by the Taliban but also including Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. "They are intertwined. The Taliban can claim with plausible deniability that they will not try to encroach, but the others may have different ideas," the source said. Graveyard of Empires Moscow will be doubly wary of any Afghan involvement, still scarred by the Soviet withdrawal from "the graveyard of empires" over 30 years ago, while China, whose sliver of a border with Afghanistan lies in Xinjiang province populated by Uighur Muslims, won't tolerate any intrusions. Blaming the US for "the tragedy and the humanitarian catastrophe" in Afghanistan, Moscow maintains working contacts with the Taliban although the movement is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization. Diplomatic sources tell Energy Intelligence that during talks last month with the Taliban's representatives in Moscow, Russia outlined its red lines, including the nonviolation of Central Asian countries' borders to avoid the export of radicalism. To ram the message home, Russian armed forces are carrying out a series of military exercises on the Afghan border. Joint maneuvers with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan took place earlier this month, and new training exercises started this week in Tajikistan to be followed by others with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran. Russian experts say Moscow will use a carrot-and-stick approach in its dealings with the Taliban, which it views as a reality that has been impossible to get rid of. At the same time as demonstrating its military power, Russia would also have to find ways to agree on strategic interests with the new leadership in Kabul. The priority has been to guarantee the security of Russia's citizens and embassy, which is already under the protection of the Taliban. Russia could recognize a Taliban government if the UN Security Council takes the lead, according to Moscow's special envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. Russian companies with interests in Central Asia are toeing Moscow's official line. Lukoil declines to comment on possible risks for its projects in Uzbekistan, although sources claim the company has no concerns at the moment. Lukoil has been working in difficult regions for years, with Iraq being a recent example. The Tapi pipeline designed to carry Turkmen gas across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India is surely, finally dead (NC Dec.12'19). And the days when the likes of Dubai-owned Dragon Oil and Turkish Petroleum signed jointly for exploration blocks in Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan-focused Tethys Petroleum was battling China National Petroleum Corp. for Afghan acreage, are long gone (NC Oct.10'13; NC Sep.8'11). Michael Ritchie, London, and Nelli Sharushkina, Moscow Upstream Investors on Afghan Borders Company Project Status Turkmenistan Petronas (Malaysia) Block 1 In Production Eni (Italy) Burun Field In Production Dragon Oil (UAE) Cheleken Field In Production CNPC (China) Amu Darya Gas In Production Mitro (Austria) Khazar Block In Production Areti (Switzerland) Block 21 Exploration Buried Hill (Cyprus) Dostluk Under Negotiation Socar (Azerbaijan) Dostluk Under Negotiation Lukoil (Russia) Dostluk Under Negotiation Uzbekistan Gazprom (Russia) Shakhpakhty Field In Production Gazprom (Russia) Djel Field Exploration Lukoil (Russia) Kandym-Khauzak-Shady In Production Lukoil (Russia) Gissar In Production Tajikistan Gazprom (Russia) Strategic Cooperation Under Negotiation TotalEnergies (France) Bokhtar Exploration (Inactive) Tethys Petroleum (Canada) Bokhtar Exploration (Inactive) Source: Energy Intelligence

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