Is TAPI a hook or magnet for Central Asia?

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov invited Ashraf Ghani to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony of TAPI
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov invited Ashraf Ghani to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony of TAPI

President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has invited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) transnational gas pipeline, which is scheduled for December 13th. The security of the project will be provided by the United States. The message that Turkmenistan began the construction of TAPI came shortly after a visit to Ashgabat by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov signed a relevant resolution at the government meeting on November 6, stressing the historical significance of the upcoming event. He noted that the practical implementation of this project will contribute to solving the economic problems in the region, important social and humanitarian issues. In addition, it will create thousands of new jobs, an appropriate transport, communication and social infrastructure. And the date of the start of TAPI was determined during a telephone conversation between Ghani and Berdimuhamedov on November 9.

"The implementation of TAPI fits into the strategic policy of Turkmenistan, which was planned the country a few years ago," a senior scientist of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Shokhrat Kadyrov, told Vestnik Kavkaza. According to him, the pipeline will be ready in a maximum of 4 years, which will allow Turkmenistan to reach Soviet level of exports of natural gas – more than 80 bcm per year. But only if the United States will fully ensure the safety of the pipeline.

Kadyrov has no doubts about the fact that such guarantees are given. Especially since Kerry promised during the talks with the leaders of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan that the United States will assist the strengthening of the state borders of these countries and support the republics in the fight against a possible escalation of violence in Afghanistan. "It is significant that on the eve of the visit of John Kerry the Afghan border area, which has hosted the Taliban in recent months, has been cleaned up. The Afghan army backed by US forces knocked them back to the Afghan-Turkmen border. But the strength of local residents and two thousand Afghan soldiers who are prepared to guard the pipeline will hardly be enough," Shohrat Kadyrov noted.

An expert on Central Asia and the Middle East, Alexander Knyazev, noted to Vestnik Kavkaza that when there was a draft agreement on security between the United States and Afghanistan, it was already evident in the applications that the majority of geographical points on a map of Afghanistan, where the presence or possible presence of US forces was discussed, is situated on the TAPI track: Turgundi, Herat, Shindand, Kandahar, Spin Boldak ... "That is, the construction of the pipeline was 'incorporated' into the future of the US presence," Knyazev stressed.

Experts agree that TAPI is a political project. According to Shohrat Kadyrov, the gas pipeline heading from Iran is much more profitable for Afghanistan and Pakistan from an economic point of view. TAPI also draws Turkmenistan into the orbit of US influence, and gradually after it the whole Central Asian region.

Alexander Knyazev points to the fact that the US interest in TAPI was not stable all the time. "The fact is that one group of US energy companies advocated the construction of TAPI, the other has been linked with Qatar for a long time, which doesn't want a new competitive pipeline existing in the region. This internal confrontation in the energy sphere explains the fact that for 23 years Washington's interest in TAPI first sharply increased then suddenly faded, depending on the strength and influence of certain lobby groups. Now, apparently, supporters of the construction are on the rise," Knyazev said. According to him, the construction of the gas pipeline seems to be tightly interfaced with the military sphere – US-Turkmen consultations recently held in Washington showed that Ashgabat will give the Pentagon the opportunity to place forces of the US Air Force at the Mary-2 airport in exchange for the construction of TAPI and security on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Perhaps they have such an agreement, but the US forces will not be positioned as a base, it is not necessary, Knyazev believes. For example, after 2001, this airport has been repeatedly used by the US Air Force as a transit or short-term basing airfield, and this did not prevent the declaration of neutrality of Turkmenistan. Knyazev believes that some form of explanation will be found now, but in terms of impact on the region, the factor of the presence of US military forces in Turkmenistan will affect the whole geopolitics of the region. And, obviously, it will be the main component of the new stage of the American Central Asian policy indicated by Kerry's visit.

According to Kadyrov, TAPI is a "magnet", by which the Americans will pull in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and everything that is adjacent to them into its orbit. "TAPI is a trap for Turkmenistan. In the sense that the implementation of TAPI  will be held under the guise of the US, which will fully define the relationship between Washington and Ashgabat, and if something will go wrong, Turkmenistan can wait for trouble, " Shohrat Kadyrov said, concluding that there is practically no Russian influence in the TAPI project, and as a result no control, unlike in the case with the Trans-Caspian project.

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