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Hamid Karzai


Update No: 050 - (30/01/06)

Suddenly, new political alignments
The main political development in December was the election of the new parliamentary speaker. Although the position does not carry much power, it does come with a high profile and was in the sight of a number of ambitious politicians, as a way to further a political career. On the eve of the vote, the two favourite candidates were former presidential candidate and opposition leader Yunis Qanuni and radical islamist Rasul Sayyaf, who is allied to President Karzai. Sayyaf appeared to be bound to win, as Karzai's supporters have a slight majority in the parliament while the opposition is quite divided. Instead, Qanuni beat Sayyaf by a margin of three votes. Prof. Rabbani, a longtime ally of Sayyaf, surprised many supporting Qanuni. His defecting to the Qanuni camp more then offset the defection of Qanuni's ally, Mohaqqeq's, to the Sayyaf camp. Mohaqqeq change of camp was even more surprising than Rabbani's, since he and Sayyaf used to be bitter enemies, and appear to have been motivated by Mohaqqeq's hope to receive the position of deputy speaker as a reward. Rabbani and Qanuni come in fact from a similar background, as Qanuni was a prominent member of Rabbani's Jamiat-i Islami before splitting from it in 2002. The new alliance has been consecrated by the merger of two splinter groups, led by Qanuni and vice-president Massud respectively, into Rabbani's Jamiat. It is not immediately clear how this development impacts on Karzai's influence within the parliament, but Qanuni signalled his willingness to abandon his leadership of the opposition in order to fully assume his institutional role. With the discredit in which Mohaqqeq has fallen, the opposition to Karzai appears to be into disarray.

Disengagement is not so easy
Signs are multiplying that the Bush administration is trying to partially disengage from Afghanistan. The reduction of troop levels from 19,000 to 16,500 is not the most important sign of that, not least because US commitment in this field would still remain more important than in 2004. The US sent additional troops to maintain security during the parliamentary elections of 2005, but is withdrawing only part of these now. A more important sign of disengagement is the reduction in US aid to Afghanistan, which will be cut from US$1 billion to US$623 million this year. The plan to reduce the US role in Afghanistan, however, is not proceeding as smoothly as planned, as the increased activity of terrorist groups against NATO forces, together with a tasking which goes well beyond peacekeeping and becomes counter-insurgency, is making some of the countries involved develop cold feet about the project. As the end of January approached, the Dutch government had not overcome yet the opposition of one member of the ruling coalition, the D66 party, to deployment in Uruzgan, one of the strongholds of the Taleban. Even among the ranks of the British, there is uneasiness about taking over a counter-insurgency role.

Economy to cool slightly down
The latest IMF forecasts see the Afghan economy cooling down somewhat in 2006/07, from a 13.6% GDP projected growth for 2005/06 to 10.9% next year, which would still be a good performance. In substance, the Afghan economy is still recovering from many years of war. The longer-term perspectives, though, appear somewhat fuzzier. The plan to build a gas pipeline through Afghan territory received yet another hit in January, when Iran, India and Pakistan made substantial progress in reaching an accord on the building of a pipeline connecting the three countries. One key reason for the preference that India and Pakistan seem to be giving to Iranian gas as opposed to Turkmen gas is the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistani Baluchistan, both of which would be crossed by the pipeline. 

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TAP gas line: Islamabad, Kabul to discuss pipeline today

Pakistan and Afghanistan recently held minister-level talks in Islamabad on the multibillion dollar Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline project.
Afghan Minister for Mines and Industries, Mir Muhammad Sadiq, lead his country's delegation in the talks, a Petroleum Ministry official said.
The US$3.5 billion, 1,680-kilometre pipeline will annually transport 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Dauletabad fields in southeast Turkmenistan to consumers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly India, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). 
The ADB has called the project 'viable and feasible'. The pipeline is to run through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Multan on to the Indian border town of Fazilka.
Turkmenistan's Dauletabad-Donmez field holds more than 2.83 trillion cubic metres of gas reserves. Since the US-led offensive that ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the pipeline project has been revived and drawn strong US support.
It would allow formerly Soviet Central Asian nations to export rich energy resources without relying on Russian routes. The project will take about three years to be implemented after all key decisions are taken by the cooperating countries, analysts say.
"The two ministers will review progress on the project and will try to move ahead," the official said. Talks on TAP will be held amidst growing opposition by the United States to the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project. Oil ministers from the three countries are scheduled to meet in Tehran next month in the first-ever tripartite meeting over the $7 billion, 2,600-kilometre project.
Pakistan has also been engaged in talks over a gas pipeline with Qatar for years. Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan have also invited India to the TAP meeting, and New Delhi has responded positively.
Although the dialogue on TAP has been slow, analysts say that the project has significant potential to enhance stability and improve living standards in South and Central Asia. They say that the pipeline, if successful, will be a pioneering effort in linking the energy deficit economies of South Asia to the hydrocarbon-rich Central Asian countries. 


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