Turkmenistan’s Neutrality Policy: A roadmap for Regional Peace & Progress

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By (Lt ColRetd) Khalid TaimurAkram

  Under International Law, Neutrality is defined as the legal status of a state which allows it to restrict itself from participating in a conflict or war between two or more states. The neutral state is further facilitated in maintaining an impartial stance which is recognized and accepted by the international community.

Turkmenistan opted for Neutrality after the disintegration of the Soviet Union when the Central Asian countries came into being. The unforeseen independence left the leaders of Turkmenistan with two choices: Either to become a developed and mature member of the international community or continue the legacy of the Soviet system which was widely viewed as oppressive. To emerge as a developed and responsible state in the international arena, Turkmenistan adopted the Policy of Permanent Neutrality.

On 12th Dec 1995, the resolution A/50/80 was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly which recognized and confirmed the “Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan”. It proved to be a significant day for Turkmenistan not only because it became a neutral state but also due to its open commitment to building and maintaining peaceful and cooperative relations with its neighbors and promoting harmony and stability throughout the region and the world.

 

The year 2020 marks the 25th Anniversary of Turkmenistan’s Neutrality. The 25 years of Neutrality have not only contributed to the development and progress of Turkmenistan itself but also the promotion of international peace and security. The neutral status of Turkmenistan has, over time, paved the way for the emergence of the new concept of international cooperation, harmony, and peace.

The adoption of Neutrality Policy by Turkmenistan was indeed a visionary decision that has been proved at the various events for the last 25 years. The Neutral Status of Turkmenistan has allowed it to play a fundamental role in the peacekeeping process in the region. Turkmenistan, during the sub-national conflict in Tajikistan, provided a neutral space for the inter-Tajik negotiations. Several rounds of talks were hosted by Turkmenistan in Ashgabat which eventually resulted in the resolution of the conflict in Tajikistan. Not only did Turkmenistan host the Inter-Tajik talks but it also facilitated several Inter-Afghan negotiations during the late 90s.

Like the peacekeeper role that Turkmenistan played in the late 90s for Afghanistan, it intended to facilitate Afghanistan similarly during the reconciliation process (US-Taliban and Inter-Afghan Talks). Being a neighbor of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan aimed at extending all the required support to Afghanistan to promote an atmosphere necessary for the successful peace talks.

In combined with hosting several negotiation sessions, Turkmenistan also provided significant economic and humanitarian assistance to the Afghan nationals during the Afghan Conflict. The assistance provided was in the form of construction of medical and educational institutions, electricity supply, training of Afghan students in the Turkmen institutions, and regularly sending the humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan. Hence, the neutral stance has enabled Turkmenistan to become a vital player in the region by providing assistance (in various forms such as economic, social, political and humanitarian) and supporting the security and stability in Central Asia.

The importance of Afghanistan’s political stability, its socio-economic recovery, and its integration into the regional and international economic process is acknowledged by Turkmenistan. Hence, it encourages Afghanistan’s participation in mega infrastructure, energy, transport, and communication projects.

One of the major projects initiated by Turkmenistan which includes not only Afghanistan but also India and Pakistan is TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India). Turkmenistan being an energy-rich country has the fourth-largest gas reserves that it intends to share with its neighboring countries for enhanced cooperation. Through this project, Turkmenistan plans to transport 33 billion cubic meters annually through the 1,840 km pipeline which runs through Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

Without the TAPI project, the three buyers are dependent on coal, oil, and LNG which are relatively expensive sources of energy. Hence, TAPI does not only provide the three countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India) an inexpensive alternate energy source which will eventually provide them an economic boost but will also promote their industrialization. Hence, the TAPI project will prove to be a game-changer for these regional countries as it will lead to various socio-economic, political, and environmental benefits to the region in general and the participant countries in particular.

Due to the huge energy potential of Turkmenistan, it tries to enhance cooperation between the regional and global countries in the energy sector. Another important initiative that was taken by Turkmenistan in this strategically important area was regarding energy security. It involved the establishment of an international legal mechanism governing the reliable and stable transit of energy resources. Since its beginning in 2007, the promotion of the initiative by Turkmenistan in all the different areas has been supported by the international community. Moreover, a resolution was also adopted by the UN General Assembly, and later in 2009, an international conference ‘Reliable and Stable Transit of Energy and its Role in Ensuring Sustainable Development and International Cooperation’ was hosted in Ashgabat. The Energy initiative taken by Turkmenistan was eventually put into practice by the UN after they adopted another resolution on 17th May 2013.

Among many of the fundamental tasks of Turkmenistan as a neutral state, one is the promotion of the culture of dialogue and negotiations in order to resolve the emerging regional and international conflicts. For this purpose, on 12th September 2019, the UN General Assembly along with 73 member states unanimously adopted a resolution, initiated by Turkmenistan, declaring the year 2021 as the International Year of Peace and Trust.

Furthermore, over the years Turkmenistan has become an active and effective ally of the United Nations in ensuring and promoting peace, political stability, and cooperation in the Central Asian region. This has been established and confirmed by the international community’s decision to open the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) in Ashgabat in 2007.

With Turkmenistan becoming the UN’s trustworthy partner, it has fully aligned its goals with the United Nation’s strategic objectives concerning the Central Asian region. Their combined efforts mainly aim at turning the Central Asian region into a conflict-free zone by promoting peace and cooperation in the region. In this regard, Turkmenistan’s neutral status is especially beneficial as it enables Turkmenistan to provide it’s full political and diplomatic support to encourage regional conditions for the promotion of mutual trust and equally beneficial partnerships.

In conclusion, The Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan has not only provided an efficient foreign policy model for the development and progress of an individual state but has also contributed to the promotion of peace and progress in the Central Asian region and the rest of the world. The importance of Neutrality is further highlighted by the fact that the United Nations General Assembly declared the 12th Dec as the International Day of Neutrality (An initiative taken by Turkmenistan). The adopted resolution highlights the importance of neutrality in supporting and strengthening the peace and stability at the regional as well as global level. Furthermore, it stresses the significant role a neutral state can play in building cooperative, friendly, and mutually beneficial relations between the countries (regional and global level).–The Author is Executive Director, Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad.