Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 361 -
Over the past two
months, Turkmenistan has courted South
Asia and Europe as new customers for its
natural gas in a move that could shake
Russia's dominant position in the market.
On December 11, Turkmenistan signed an
agreement with Pakistan, India and
Afghanistan to commit to supplying the
proposed Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline
Project, also known as TAPI. The
1,680-kilometre pipeline would carry an
estimated 33 billion cubic metres of
Turkmen gas to South Asia every year.
Turkmenistan is anxious to cash in on its
huge natural gas reserves, and Pakistan
and India badly need additional energy
resources. Turkmen President Gurbanguly
Berdymuhammedov said the project “should
serve as an example of how the principal
objective – assuring a balance of
interests of energy producers, transit
countries and consumers – can be achieved,
as long as there is the political will and
a constructive attitude".
But despite large doses of good will from
all of the countries involved, the
proposed pipeline route is risky.
Investors will likely shy away from
putting their money into an infrastructure
project that goes through war-torn
Afghanistan, and relies on good relations
between India and Pakistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised to
"put in efforts to ensure security both
during construction and after completing
the project," and the country's Mines and
Industry Minister, Wahidullah Shahrani,
confirmed that, "5,000 to 7,000 security
forces will be deployed to safeguard the
pipeline route." That might not be enough.
The pipeline is supposed to go through
Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold. Shahrani
has said he's confident that local
residents will support the project because
it will deliver jobs and new sources of
power and heating. But the Taliban are
unlikely to want the government-backed
project to encroach on their turf and
might try to prevent the pipeline from
ever getting off the ground.
The pipeline would also go through
Pakistan's volatile Baluchistan region,
where militants are in the midst of a
violent campaign for independence. For
years, ethnic Baluchis have targeting
officials, teachers, students, and all
non-Baluchis who try to settle or work in
the region. While there has been much talk
about securing the TAPI pipeline in
Afghanistan, little has been said about
security along the line in Baluchistan,
although Pakistani officials have proposed
slightly altering the pipeline's route to
take it through more secure Pashtun-inhabited
areas of Baluchistan.
The fate of the project is far from
sealed, and some political analysts argue
that Turkmenistan is merely using TAPI as
a bargaining chip to encourage its
existing gas customers to move more
quickly on other export routes. On January
14, top European Union leaders visited the
capital, Ashgabat, to step up its pressure
to build a pipeline running from
Turkmenistan to Europe.
Europe is keen to move on several proposed
pipeline projects in an effort to bypass
Russia and avoid the periodic shortages
that occur when Moscow falls out with
Belarus and the Ukraine – through which
most Russian gas is transported to Europe.
Those projects include a pipeline from
Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan under the
Caspian sea (no small enterprise), that
would feed into the proposed Nabucco line
and be transported on to south-eastern
Europe through Turkey.
The day before travelling to Ashgabat,
European Commission President Jose Manuel
Barroso and Azerbaijani President Ilham
Aliyev signed a joint declaration that
commits Azerbaijan to providing
"substantial" long-term gas supplies to EU
countries. If the EU can get Turkmenistan
to the same thing, Europe will at last
have energy security.
But how likely is that? The Russian energy
firm Gazprom currently has control over
most Turkmen gas exports, besides which
there are exports to Iran and China.
According to an energy expert in
Turkmenistan, Burdymuhammedov is trying to
persuade potential customers that they
should share the burden of risk associated
with building the necessary infrastructure
and is keen to follow in the footsteps of
Azerbaijan, which escaped Russia's sphere
of influence, once it had secured funding
for the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline. The West
is keen to throw money at new projects
that by bypass Russia, and Turkmenistan is
fast losing its loyalty to Gazprom.
Moscow has announced that it plans to buy
just ten billion cubic metres of gas from
Turkmenistan this year, instead of the 40
or 50 billion it used to take, and isn't
doing its best to curry favour with the
Central Asian state. The doors of
competition between the two energy-rich
states are starting to open up.