Unidentified gunmen killed five mine clearance workers affiliated with the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project on May 21, according to Afghan officials. One worker was kidnapped, they added.
The demining team was working in the southern Afghan province’s Maiwand district clearing the way for pipeline construction, said Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province. The Afghan segment of TAPI is seen as the riskiest section of the pipeline and is set to determine its success or otherwise. Afghanistan’s interior and defence ministries claim to have outlined a comprehensive security plan to ensure security for the $10bn TAPI project. The issue is coming more into focus now because the Taliban have engaged on their annual spring offensive. The pipeline is to pass through the Herat, Farah, Nimroz, Helmand and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan.
“The victims had told the district governor and district police that they had no problem with Taliban so they would not need any protection,” Ahmadi said.
In late February, there was some surprise when, shortly before the launch of construction works on the Afghan segment of the pipeline, the Taliban pledged their cooperation and protection for the project noting its importance to building up Afghanistan's economic infrastructure. Analysts said the militants were no doubt eyeing a share of economic rewards from the realisation and operation of the pipeline.
The Natural Resources Monitoring Network (NRMN) last week raised concerns over the growing security threat posed to the planned TAPI. It cited last week’s fierce fighting in the centre of the city of Farah in western Afghanistan as evidence that the Afghan government lacks the will to take security measures seriously enough. The fighting at Farah does not necessarily imply the Taliban has given up on its pipeline security commitments but it, along with the attack on the mine-clearance workers, put in doubt the viability of the project.
Reports from May 16 suggested the Afghan government had with US air support pushed back the attacking Taliban forces from Farah, with just “subdued” fighting continuing on the city’s outskirts. But NRMN chief Ibrahim Jaffari said: “Recently there have been indications that the government is step by step excluding TAPI from its priorities, because the recent efforts to take over Farah show that the government has not done anything to ensure the security of the TAPI gas pipeline.”
“Do or die” project for Turkmen economy
Turkmenistan has committed to covering 85% of the construction costs for TAPI, which is to stretch 1,814 kilometres (1,144-miles). That is something of a problem as the remote nation presently appears to be struggling to cover its own budget costs. The Turkmen state is believed to be close to a full-blown economic crisis, or even collapse, thanks to lost profits on previously low world oil prices and longstanding difficulties in diversifying gas exports beyond supplies to China. Some have called the TAPI pipeline a “do-or-die” project for the pariah nation—the worst performer in Freedom House's recently issued Nations in Transit report—that could bring in significant new revenues if it is ever completed.
The success or otherwise of the Afghan part of the project in negotiating security challenges will very likely determine the fate of the whole TAPI enterprise.
TAPI is expected to export 33bn cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas per year from Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh gas field, one of the world's largest hydrocarbon fields with estimated reserves of 13,100bcm, to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan. The route has been under discussion in various forms since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but endemic corruption and fraternal rivalries between the various 'Stans' stymied any progress in building the pipeline.
The four main gas companies in the countries involved in the TAPI project—Turkmengaz (Turkmenistan), Afghan Gas Enterprise (Afghanistan), GAIL (India) and Inter State Gas Systems (Pakistan)—each own an equal share of the TAPI Consortium. The stakes were agreed in November 2014 when the investment project was set up.
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