On October 11, the Taliban announced the launch of the second phase of work on the construction of the Qosh Teppa Canal in northern Afghanistan.  The estimated budget for the construction of this canal is more than 600 million US dollars.  This is a huge amount for poor Afghanistan.  Or not?... 

To-date, they have already built one third of the canal, which is significantly ahead of the construction schedule.  

The construction of the canal is entrusted to the Afghan state-owned company and a total cost of the project is 684 million US dollars.    

Representatives of the company claim that the project is being implemented without the help of foreign specialists.   

But where will they get the money?

Tajik political scientist Parviz Mullojanov says the Taliban have money.  

“Firstly, the annual state budget, which under the previous Afghan government had stood at US$5.5 billion, is now in the hands of the Taliban. The budget is now smaller, but part of the cost of building the canal comes from there,” says Tajik political scientist. 

“Secondly, the Taliban also have a shadow бюджет, which according to various estimates amounts to 1.6 billion US dollars,” Mullojanov added.  

Russian expert Andrey Serenko says, “The Taliban have money; they earn money from mining and smuggling minerals, drug trafficking, transit motor traffic and so forth.  Top Taliban leaders are dollar millionaires.  They are actively and successfully converting their status as jihadists into capitalists.  

“The financial capabilities of the Taliban are quite significant.  They, in particular, allow the They allow the “furious” mullahs to spend half of the official state budget on the military sphere (army, police, intelligence, etc.).  And this is a lot of money,” Russian expert noted.  

He further noted that the Taliban have also received external financial assistance from such countries as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  

Tajik journalist and political observer Ilhom Narziyev considers that the Taliban are unlikely to build the canal with their own money.  

“I think that this could not have happened without “external patrons.”  I won’t guess who this “well-wisher” is, but one thing is clear, the canal is becoming a “ticking time bomb” in the region,” says Narziyev.  “This is a gigantic object by the standards of the region.  According to the project, the canal’s length will be 280 km and its width - 100 meters.”  

Experts express doubts about its economic feasibility at the current stage.  

As it had been reported earlier, following the completion of the work on the first phase of the Qosh Tepa Canal, work on its second phase began on October 11.

Afghan media reports noted that senior officials of the Islamic Emirate who went to Balkh province to participate in the opening ceremony of the second phase of the Qosh Tepa Canal, said that Afghanistan will reach self-sufficiency in growing its own grains.

“The Islamic Emirate intends to pay serious attention to agriculture and managing water, as we witness its good example in taking steps in the building of the Qosh Tepa Canal,” Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, was quoted as saying.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, officials of the Islamic Emirate reportedly asked regional countries, especially Uzbekistan to not be worried about the construction of Qosh Tepa Canal.

They said that the Islamic Emirate is ready to address the concerns of the countries of the region through diplomatic channels.

At the same time, the Islamic Emirate security officials pledged the security of the Qosh Tepa Canal project, saying that they will not allow anyone to create obstacles to this project.

Recall, the self-proclaimed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan set in motion an ambitious plan for the Qosh Tepa irrigation canal, a potential lifeline for drought-ridden Afghanistan in March last year.  However, its construction casts a looming shadow over Central Asian downstream nations of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, exacerbating water scarcity threats.

The Qosh Tepa Canal’s reach spans an impressive 285 kilometers, boasting a width of 100 meters and a depth of 8 meters.

Interestingly, the Qosh Tepa Canal project had been in the works for several years before the Taliban ascended to power.  The groundwork and feasibility studies were reportedly initiated during Afghanistan’s former government, supported by USAID.  However, it was under the Taliban’s direction that the project gained tangible momentum.

Experts note that assessing the quality of the canal’s construction raises serious doubts.  The construction methods employed appear remarkably rudimentary, with a mere “digging” approach devoid of proper reinforcement or lining for the canal’s bottom and banks.  Such an approach poses a grave risk, as significant water losses may occur due to seepage into the dry, sandy soil.  The resulting loss of water in canals exacerbates the already pressing issues of salinization and waterlogging in irrigated lands, amplifying the risks of water loss to an alarming extent.

The issue of canal construction holds significant transboundary implications, particularly for Central Asian countries.  Qosh Tepa canal’s construction casts a profound shadow of influence over the neighboring states of Central Asia, unleashing substantial repercussions.  Diverse assessments suggest that in the span of 5-6 years, upon the canal’s completion and operation, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will face a notable decline in their average water intake capacity along the middle and lower reaches of the transboundary river -- dropping from 80% to 65%.