By Andrei Serenko, an expert at the Centre for Studying Contemporary Afghanistan
Pakistani officials have started a political game over the possible participation of Afghanistan in the TAPI project. According to an opinion poll conducted among experts by the Centre for Contemporary Studies of Afghanistan, a statement made by Pakistan’s top official in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources Muhammad Ejas Chaudhry on the 28th of March about the possibility of rejection by Afghanistan to buy natural gas from the TAPI pipeline can be considered as an attempt by Islamabad to deprive the participants of the gas transit project of the status of parity members.
The Pakistani officials call in question the participation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the TAPI project. In an interview with Pakistan-based Pak Tribune, Muhammad Ejas Chaudhry said that Afghanistan would not buy gas from Turkmenistan as part of the TAPI gas pipeline project. According to Chaudhry, Afghanistan has rejected its share of gas in the project, and 750 million cubic meters of gas set aside for Afghanistan will be divided between Pakistan and India. Talks on the issue are expected to be held in Kabul on the 19th of April.
Muhammad Ejas Chaudhry did not explain whether the possible withdrawal of Afghanistan from the TAPI project would have any impact on the route of the gas pipeline that should pass through the Afghan territory.
On the 1st of April, Afghanistan responded to the Pakistani official’s statement. The spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Mines, Jawad Omar dismissed the statement made by Pakistani authorities that Afghanistan had rejected to buy its share of gas as part of the TAPI project. “The statement by the Pakistani authorities is groundless,” Jawad Omar said, and emphasized that Afghanistan was stick to its agreements on the purchase of its share as part of the TAPI project. According to him, Afghan Minister of Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani will visit Ashkhabad shortly to discuss about Afghanistan’s quota in Turkmen gas as part of the TAPI project.
According to experts, the statement by Muhammad Ejas Chaudhry has every reason to believe that Islamabad is exploring a political situation for lowering Kabul’s status in the TAPI project. Possibly, the “game of lowering” is strategically aimed at excluding Afghanistan as a participant of the project. If Kabul rejects to buy its share of Turkmen gas, this will lose the sense of Afghanistan’s presence among the TAPI concessionaires. In this case, the question is whether the participants can preserve the present route of the pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
By taking into account, the strengthening partnership between Pakistan and Iran, one can suggest that Islamabad is interested in reorienting the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Iran bypassing Afghanistan. In this case, the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan will pass through the eastern province of Iran and reach Quetta, the capital of Balujistan (as suggested by the TAPI project. Clearly, Teheran is interested in the transformation of the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) project into the TIPI (Turkmenistan-Iran-Pakistan-India) project.
Neither the Afghan government nor its American partners will agree with Islamabad’s determination to lower Afghanistan’s status in the TAPI project and moreover, the prospects for attracting Iran to the project. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has shown his personal interest in the implementation of the project since his work in the Unocal Company. Moreover, two largest American companies are interested in the TAPI project and the involvement of Iran in it will completely spoil the interests of the President and Americans in this energy project.
The statement by Jawad Omar shows that the Afghan government is intended to resist actively against Pakistan’s plan to upset the parity based status of the participants of the TAPI project. Clearly, Afghanistan will make an additional statement concerning its intentions as part of the gas pipeline project at a meeting of all participants of the consortium in Kabul on the 19th of April. Nevertheless, Pakistan will make more efforts to weaken Afghanistan’s position in the TAPI project. Most likely, Teheran will actively support Pakistan to this end.