The question of non-traditional risks and challenges posing to Central Asia have not been widely debated. However, this paper focuses on non-traditional risks and challenges with special attention to the energy security of Afghanistan’s phase of TAPI gas pipeline and Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (TAP500 KV) electricity transmission line projects. After Turkmenistan’s segment, TAPI and TAP500 KV is now entering into the second implementation phase. The transmission lines are crossing through relatively most insecure and unstable Farah, Nimroz, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan. However, existing and prospective risks and challenges have not been well addressed.
According to the reports, recently Farah’s province key districts collapsed into Taliban hands. How the government of Afghanistan will be able to implement its segment of power projects crossing via the mentioned provinces? What measures does the Government need to take to achieve completing the power projects and makes its sustenance? These and similar questions are addressed.
After Turkmenistan, TAPI and TAP associated with risks and challenges entering into the second implementation phase in Afghanistan.
I argue that under President Ghani, the “North Look policy” is in a strong and enthusiastic trend. President Ghani’s recent 23 agreements with Uzbekistan and quick inauguration of the TAPI and TAP projects indicates his willingness to increase economic and energy-oriented relations with Central Asia to relinquish the country from Pakistan’s economic trap and decrease economic dependency on the unreliable neighbor.
In conclusion, this proposal by closely examining the non-traditional risks and challenges to the Central Asian Security sheds new lights on neglected and less illustrated prospective and existing risks and challenges posing to the energy sector.
The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) electricity transmission line are the region’s significant big energy projects. These are not only projects but means that connect two regions of Central Asian and South Asia. The planned TAPI pipeline has a length of 1814 km, which 214 km in Turkmenistan, 774 km in Afghanistan, 826 km in Pakistan and reach to the Fazilka region of India. Given the capacity, TAPI can supply 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually. The project is for 30 years and the total cost is estimated $ 9.9 billion (Shoib, 2018). Following by the TAP electricity transmission line. The planned TAP can supply 500 kV of electricity from Turkmenistan, crossing through Afghanistan to Pakistan.
According to Afghanistan state-owned electricity agency, DABS, Afghanistan’s part of expenditure is estimated $ 70 million, which will receive $ 50 million as transit duties from the project. The twin energy projects were inaugurated in December 2015. Asian Development Bank (ADB) country director for Afghanistan Samuel Tumiwa states “The Asian Development Bank is committed to financing TAP. We have put aside some money to finance it. Asides from the benefits from greater electrification, it is also good economic cooperation between the countries. So when we have good economic cooperation between the countries, the case is so strong that everything else, security issues and political issues get sidelined and you get good cooperation between these countries which will bring stability in the region,” reported Afghan-based TOLO news agency.
Afghanistan’s segment of TAPI and TAP kV500 progress
As mentioned above that two different projects with the same line inaugurated in December 2015. The first phase, the Turkmenistan’s segment of the TAPI construction completed. The second construction phase kicked off in the presence of the partner countries’ leaders on 23 February 2018, in western Herat city of Afghanistan. The pipeline will cross through volatile Nimroz, Farah, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan to Pakistan, and India. However, Afghanistan’s segment of TAPI and TAP kV500 progress seems questionable. It is so far ambiguous what measure will the government take to ensure the projects’ implementation phase within its territory. As the projects cross through southern Afghanistan where Taliban and other insurgent elements are operating. Following the TAPI and TAP kV500 projects inauguration ceremony Taliban announced their support. Instead they continue blaming the government for delaying the construction, Reuters reports.
Given the TAP’s transmission line progress the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in the presence of the three partner countries; Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in 2015. The project practical commencement was decided by the RECCA-VII conference in Ashgabat, which ADB expressed willingness to provide logistical support. To date, the international donors’ promise has remained on the page, no practical action has been made so far (MFA http://recca.af/?page_id=2147).
President Ghani’s North Look Policy
President Ghani visited Uzbekistan on 4th December 2017. The visit was considered a “land mark visit” by the local media. Many aspects related to economic development were discussed with his Uzbek counter-part, Shavkat Mirzayov. The visit was amid Afghanistan’s efforts to reduce economic dependency on Pakistan. Both sides discussed “fighting terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking, as well as upgrading security in Central Asia. The talks resulted in a general joint statement” Eurasia daily reports.
In addition, to ensure and address the security concerns faced by the Hairatan Bridge, connecting Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, a join security commission was agreed upon to ensure the security. President Ghani’s gravitation towards Central Asia was welcomed with few consecutive visits which demonstrates a new chapter in bilateral relations. Notably, Kazakhstan as first Central Asian states that got non-permanent UNSC seat the delegation led by Kairat Umarov, Kazakhstan’s ambassador to the UN first prioritized Afghanistan in the agenda. The delegation accompanied by Nikki Hally, U.S. ambassador to the UN, visited Kabul for participation at the Kabul Peace Process conference in February 2018.
Following by the Tashkent meeting that held under the theme of Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan on 26-27 March 2018. The conference that was attended by regional and international partners. The declaration was adopted by “Republic of Uzbekistan, by Afghanistan, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, EU and UN” (UzNNA 2018). These visits demonstrate Ghani’s foreign policy gravitation placing the Central Asia at the core of the priority areas. His North Look Policy resulted with a win-win strategy for Afghanistan and as well for the Central Asia. This means in short term Afghanistan’s dependency on the immediate but unreliable neighbor, Pakistan would reduce that would relinquish the country from economic trap.
Existing and Prospective challenges
As long speculated that local militant group disrupts the TAPI project construction activities. However, the purported Taliban’s spokesperson Qari Yousuf Ahmadi declared they will make ensuring security for those parts of the project that comes under their control. Yosuf sends the message to a local media outlets and states that “The Islamic Emirate views this project as an important element of the country’s economic infrastructure and believes its proper implementation will benefit the Afghan people. We announce our cooperation in providing security for the project in areas under our control,” (Alikozai 2018).
However, Taliban’s conditional support ensuring the security of the power projects seems with suspicion. Because recently the power line that transmits 300 MW electricity from Uzbekistan to capital, Kabul was cut off in the Baghlan province, northern Afghanistan. They claimed that “until our legitimate demands are met, the Islamic Emirate (as the Taliban call themselves) will keep the power cut to Kabul, which houses all large bases and centers of the foreign invaders and domestic enemies, its responsibility falls upon the officials of the Kabul regime” (EFE 2018). Iran is also a potential rival to the TAPI project implementation. its planned gas pipeline called Iran-Pakistan-India (IPA) or “Peace Pipeline” is considered a rival to the TAPI. The country’s regional hegemonic role could pose security challenges to the Afghan portion of construction. Before the inauguration session held in Herat province of Afghanistan, Iran has taken any possible way to derail the ceremony by their hand-picked trained militants. fortunately, they diverted the way and preferred to support the government position (Bruce 2018) Radio Free Europe reports.
TAPI passes through the Zaranj-Delaram highway in Nimruz province of Afghanistan. Taliban are influentially active in the area. Last week, 21st May Monday, an unknown militant group opened fire on the AMBC workers, a demining NGO that killed five workers on the spot and abducted one. A Few days later the corpse of the abducted was found in the vicinity of the city Pajhwok reports. So far no group including the Taliban has taken the responsibility, Reuters reports. Such ambiguous situation will derail the projects’ construction progress. Ahead of the inauguration of the project in 2015, the then defense minister of Pakistan Khwaja Asif stated that Pakistan will use their influence on Taliban to ensure the project’s security (Shoaib 2018). The question arises that to what extent does Pakistan stand on their position or will Taliban accept Pakistan’s influence. Or will Pakistan pursue a win-lose or win-win strategy against India in this project? Similar questions will be answered while the actual project functional time arrives.
Way forward for Afghanistan
The partner countries along with the international donors are willing to assure the projects’ implementation. However, this is not only the budget allocation that can ensure the projects’ implementation successful but also other necessary measures to be taken.
It needs to be mentioned that if the government of Afghanistan, partner countries, and the international donors would like to efficiently ensure a successful implementation the following measures including but not limited need to be taken:
For Afghanistan to makes the projects successful the following steps needs to be taken, which includes but not limited to:
1. Active Action Task Force that can preserve the security of the projects crossing through volatile provinces of Afghanistan.
2. Creating a common ground with the local power brokers over the given projects implementation phase. In the past they had proven a challenge for foreign investors in different part of the country.
3. As Taliban have mentioned that they will ensure the security of such civil projects. But their statement must not be trusted. The recent electricity line suspension by the Taliban in Baghlan province could be an example.
4. Based on conventional wisdom, Pakistan had often used many other pressure buttons to pressurize Afghanistan and India. TAPI and TAP kV500 should not turn as a pressure button to make Afghanistan and India to compromise with Pakistan on the matters that country seeks. The speed up the projects’ implementation, a prior common ground must be reached by the partner countries. This would be a win-win strategy for Afghanistan.
5. The regional forums and conferences as RECCA, Heart of Asia-Istanbul process, Kabul Peace process conferences, SCO, and similar forums must put these projects as the core of their agenda.
TAPI gas pipeline and TAP electricity transmission line are undoubtedly the region’s two significant projects. Despite the gas and electricity supply, the economic corridor will turn Afghanistan into a regional economic hub. The project ensures the regional connectivity between energy-scarce and energy surplus regions. Projects crossing through Afghanistan will be a test for the country to demonstrate the capacity of having the ability to ensure the security of such projects. In future, similar prospective projects, such as Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will cross via Afghanistan. Afghanistan must utilize every aspect of its potential to ensure the security of such projects. This can pave the way for Afghanistan to attract mini and mega projects, which will boost the country’s legitimate status on the regional and international level.
However, the existing challenges face to the construction should not be taken easily. Perhaps this would be the first and last test for Afghanistan to utilize every possible way. Regional countries excluding Iran at this stage are on the common ground while it comes to the existing projects. To bring the region and international community on the same page convening regional and international forums would prove effective to ensure the importance of the projects. For instance, the regional organizations, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), RECCA, and other peace process forums are of vital importance to play a constructive role in ensuring regional connectivity and making the energy projects implementation successful.
*Rahimullah Kakar, OSCE Academy 2016 Alumnus, and holds an MA in Politics and Security from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Academy based in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic.
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