TAPI gas pipeline is facing new challenges
The Turkmen-Afghan seminar on ensuring the security of regional infrastructures within the framework of the Istanbul Process ended today. Representatives of the ministries of foreign affairs, defense, energy, and the oil and gas sector of the two countries discussed issues of promoting the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline, which faces security problems: there is a large concentration of militants in the Afghan border. According to experts, there is an accumulation of forces for attacks on the infrastructure of the project.
Activization of militants near the Turkmen border is observed after the start of practical work related to the implementation of the TAPI project (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India). In January 2020, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov signed a resolution that allows the State Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs to conclude financial agreements with the Saudi Development Fund to finance the TAPI project.
Ashgabat continues to procure gas pipes for the project. One of the suppliers, the Chelyabinsk Tube Rolling Plant, received an order worth $ 219 million. Last year 150 thousand tons of pipes were delivered. The length of the Turkmen part of the highway is 214 km. Nevertheless, the question of the degree of completion of work in the Turkmen sector remains open.
There are several reasons. The issue of financing the project has not been resolved. The situation did not change even after the cost of announcing the gas pipeline was officially reduced from $ 10 billion. up to $ 7.6 billion. All the hopes for investors that Ashkhabad hopes to find in Dubai at the international oil and gas road show of Turkmenistan. The event, to be held on February 25, will bring together more than 200 delegates from 20 countries. Ashgabat also intends to offer interested parties cooperation in gas production at the Galkynysh field.
Serious work on the territory of Afghanistan and Pakistan has not yet been carried out, although, as the representative of the Board of Directors of TAPI Pipeline C. L. said at the end of last year Muhammetmyrad Amanov, preliminary design and feasibility study for the gas pipeline project is completed. Topographic and geodetic work, as well as work on assessing the environmental impact of the project in these countries, were also completed. Islamabad promised to begin construction of TAPI in January 2020, but so far no information has been received that the work has begun.
Another delay was caused by disagreements between the parties on the terms of the contract for gas export. Islamabad, before starting work, requires a review of the price of gas supplied, which was set at 350 dollars. per thousand cubic meters, which in the current conditions is excessively high. According to experts, due to the continued growth in LNG supplies to Europe from the United States in 2020, the price of natural gas could drop further to 120 dollars. per thousand cubic meters The terminal point of the India gas pipeline, which is in no hurry to get involved in the project.
Afghanistan has its own reasons for discontent. According to the Afghan publication Heart of Asia, Kabul is unhappy that it has not received the promised 12 billion dollars from Ashgabat. for the construction of their pipeline section. This was announced by the Minister of Economy of Afghanistan Mustafa Mastur at the end of last year. "As for ensuring the safety of the construction and operation of this gas pipeline, there are more questions than answers.
The number of personnel in the armed forces, police and special services exceeds 250 thousand, this is a lot on the scale of Afghanistan, but the quality of their training is extremely low, Alexander Knyazev, a doctor of historical sciences, an expert on Central Asia and the Middle East, told Vestnik Kavkaza . In his opinion, the only really combat-ready are only special units, of which a group of 700 military personnel is most likely formed, focused on ensuring the safety of the TAPI route. They will serve in five provinces: Herat, Farah, Nimrosh, Helmand and Kandahar. However, the formation created may not be enough to ensure the security of the Afghan section of the 774-km gas pipeline.
According to Knyazev, an analysis of all the experience of the activities of these units suggests their focus on one-time assault actions. Often, they successfully release one or another village or county from the control of the Taliban (an organization prohibited in the Russian Federation), but soon this area is again under the control of the Taliban, and this happens throughout the country.
"For statements about the possibility of security control along the TAPI route, as well as throughout Afghanistan, it is necessary to assess not the combat effectiveness of a special group of 700 people, which is very small for five provinces, but the ability of the state as a whole to achieve stability in these territories. All these provinces are among not the simplest government bodies in Afghanistan in terms of the effectiveness of state bodies. In the best case, only provincial centers are relatively confidently controlled, "said Knyazev.
"At the same time, reports began to appear about the appearance of unidentified militants just at the place where the planned gas pipeline should cross the border of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Turkmen tribes live in this area," Turkmen expert Serdar Aitakov told the Vestnik Kavkaza.
According to him, one should not underestimate the ability of the armed forces of Turkmenistan to stop minor problems on the border independently. In recent years, the Turkmen authorities have made serious efforts to train and equip anti-terrorist units. There is information that the Russian border troops, as well as the Russian Air Force, are training the Turkmen military and special services in anti-terrorism skills. Judging by the rather frequent visits of high Russian authorities to Ashgabat (the last one was 10 days ago), there is a constant exchange of intelligence information, "the expert noted. Of course, all this will not help the construction of TAPI in Afghanistan, but it can prevent terrorist attacks on gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan.
Aitakov believes that instability in Afghanistan, especially along the route of the gas pipeline, can freeze the project for many years. Investors and contractors may terminate their field development and pipeline construction activities. This may be the ultimate goal of those who really stand behind the appearance of militants in Turkmenistan.
According to the expert, Turkmenistan, beginning to actively promote the construction of TAPI, has entered a zone of serious conflicts of interest. "The gas markets of Pakistan and India are a zone of interest for Qatar and Iran. If Qatar already supplies liquefied gas to these markets, then Iran expects to continue the construction of the Mir gas pipeline, which it has already brought to the border with Pakistan, but construction has stalled due to US sanctions The appearance of the TAPI project directly contradicts the interests of both Qatar and Iran.
It is worth noting that two years ago, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov tried to negotiate with the leadership of Qatar on a joint presence on the market of India and Pakistan and even applied for investments for the construction of TAPI during a personal visit to Qatar, but the visit ended in nothing, ”the expert emphasized.