KABUL: The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday pledged to protect billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects throughout the country, many of which have been stalled for years due to militant violence and insecurity.

The militant group made the surprise gesture in a statement. “The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) not only backs all national projects which are in the interest of the people and result in the development and prosperity of the nation but are also committed to safeguarding them,” it said.

“The Islamic Emirate directs all its mujahideen to help in the security of all national projects that are in the higher interest of Islam and the country.”

The statement comes after Afghan and Turkmen leaders on Monday inaugurated a railway line connecting Afghanistan to Europe through Turkmenistan.

According to the statement, the promise extends to highways, railways, as well as the $10 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, and a multi-billion dollar copper mine known as Mes Aynak, south of Kabul.

Afghan officials were sceptical of the promises, however.

“They inflicted more than two billion dollars worth of damage to public and private properties and infrastructure during two months of their violent campaign in Afghanistan,” Shahhussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said, referring to the Taliban’s fall offensive this year.

Published in Dawn November 30th, 2016