Slow Progress on Turkmen-Afghan Pipeline

Slow Progress on Turkmen-Afghan Pipeline

After four governments signed an agreement to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, experts said the security and commercial risks surrounding the route meant it was still a long way from becoming a reality.

The agreement to begin implementing the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline Project, also known as Turkmenistan-Pakistan-India or TAPI, was signed on December 11 by representatives of the four states in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.

The 1,680-kilometre pipeline would carry an estimated 33 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas to South Asia every year.

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".

A Turkmen foreign ministry staffer said Berdymuhammedov also saw the TAPI project as a contribution to bringing peace to Afghanistan.

"The president believes there is no future for the current military scenario for resolving the Afghan conflict, and he is therefore initiating non-military solutions, which include TAPI,” he said.

Despite Berdymuhammedov’s upbeat tone, the proposed pipeline route comes with many risks attached to it. The unstable situation in Afghanistan is going to make it hard to find anyone willing to invest money in the construction work, while the troubled relationship between India and Pakistan will make the former reluctant to rely on the latter as a supply route.

For these reasons and more, experts polled by NBCentralAsia believe the signing ceremony does not signal the launch of practical work on the project. They note that various agreements have been signed on TAPI in the past without significant progress being made on it.

Some argue that Turkmenistan is using TAPI as a way of encouraging existing customers for its gas to move more quickly on other export routes that would prove more feasible.

Rovshan Ibrahimov, a leading political scientist in Azerbaijan, said these other pipeline projects included one following the Caspian Sea shoreline to Russia, and a different, western-backed route going under the sea to Azerbaijan, where it would feed into a third – Nabucco – which is intended to carry gas through Turkey and into southeastern Europe.

President Berdymuhammedov has a policy of diversifying his country’s export routes, in order to get away from its current reliance on the Russian pipeline network, which means the energy firm Gazprom has effective control over most Turkmen gas exports. Moscow has announced that it plans to buy just ten billion cubic metres of gas in 2011, instead of the 40 or 50 billion it used to take. It has also frozen the project for a Caspian shoreline pipeline.

Berdymuhammedov has repeatedly expressed his openness to alternative routes, called for international agreements on the security of energy transit arrangements, and offered to sell gas at the point at which it leaves Turkmen soil.

According to an energy expert in Turkmenistan, the president is trying to cover all the options and persuade potential customers that they should share the burden of risk associated with infrastructure and transportation projects.

“He needs international guarantees," the expert said.

 He added that Berdymuhammedov will have noted the happy experience of Azerbaijan which, once the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline secured funding and became a reality, “escaped from Russia's sphere of influence and now pursues an independent energy policy”.

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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