Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov’s two-day visit to Pakistan started on March 16. He is expected to discuss energy and transport issues with his Pakistani opposite number Mamnoon Hussain. The key issue on agenda is the construction of the Trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline (TAPI – Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India).
The TAPI project had been discussed long and was approved at the end of 2015, when high-ranking officials of the four countries and a number of the so-called “foreign actors” gathered in Mary, Turkmenistan. It was declared then that TAPI will be completed in three years. Three months after that meeting, only Turkmenistan launched the construction of the pipeline. Drilling operations were launched at the Galkynish gas field that will be the raw-materials base for TAPI. By some data, Ashgabat has completed the talks for purchase of a number of components necessary for the construction. The other three participants in the project have proved so passive that it aroused concerns of the parties interested in the timely construction and launch of the pipeline.
Senior researcher at the Center for Studying General Problems of the Modern East of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the RAS, PhD (History) Shokhrat Kadyrov told EADaily the harmony around TAPI is illusive, as the participants in the project have uneasy relations, and the strain in the relations of Kabul and Islamabad may impede the implementation of the project.
“These countries have never had common economic interests to establish mutually advantageous cooperation. In addition, they have direct contradictions. In particular, during the talks, Pakistan offered to involve the Taliban to ensure security of TAPI, but Afghanistan is categorically against this,” Kadyrov said. U.S. may help these two states to “find a common denominator.” However, Washington does not hurry to do it, as it does not care for either TAPI or the project of the Greater Central Asia with the participation of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Besides, Washington’s passiveness in the issue is connected with the interests of its allies in the Middle East – UAE and Qatar. Consequently, either Washington keeps aside not to offend any of the parties and let them find a common language on their own or the lobbyists of the interests of Qatar and UAE in Washington cannot gain a majority.
It is noteworthy that Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the minister of state in the United Arab Emirates, Director-General of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and Emir of the State of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, traveled to Ashgabat last week with an interval of a few days. The sultan negotiated for an access of the UAE companies to the search of new gas fields in Turkmenistan and their involvement in the operation of the discovered ones. As for the talks with the emir of Qatar, there is less information about them. The existing data concern mainly the climate of the meeting with Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. In particular, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – who is known to be a horseman – received a stallion of Akhal-Teke breed as a gift from the Turkmen president. Experts suppose the gift pursued a goal to soften the “unease” over the proposals that might be rejected by Ashgabad. Experts say the emir might have offered the Turkmen side certain preferences in exchange for the refusal from TAPI or protraction of the project’s implementation, though it is already protracted. The point is that Qatar is the monopoly supplier of gas to the markets of India, Pakistan, and South-East Asia, so it does not need a rival – Turkmenistan.
Another country that may be unhappy with TAPI is China that has its own plans about the Turkmen gas. Some sources say, China has not abandoned the idea to purchase the Turkmen gas fully. Beijing needs it for both internal demand and re-export to other markets.
Hence, in Islamabad, Berdymukhamedov is very likely to discuss Pakistani leadership’s attitude to TAPI i.e. how soon they will tackle that ambitious project. Depending on Pakistan’s readiness to find common points with Afghanistan, Turkmenistan may correct its policy too.