The question of what will happen in the territory of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American troops, as this time approaches, is becoming increasingly important for the northern neighbors of Kabul, about which the author has already written on the pages of the Military-Industrial Courier.
It should be noted that any publications devoted to the current situation in the post-Soviet space, as a rule, cause an ambiguous reaction in the countries in question, provoking the appearance of “answers” by local authors, which are usually based on conspiracy theory based on suspicions about Russia, with hints of Moscow’s desire to intervene in the internal affairs of a particular republic. Leaving aside the discussion, the whole complex of causes and effects of a policy of this kind, implicated in the conviction of local elites that Russia wants the restoration of the Soviet Union and the only thing that prevents it from re-adopting the position of “elder brother” in Central Asia and Transcaucasia is the US influence, EU and China.
Note that avoiding this mythical threat, the leaders of the countries in question are in a much more dangerous position than they see it. And the real problems they have are not in the north, but in the south. And reliance on Beijing, Brussels and Washington in the event of their escalation is unlikely to help.
The demonstrative refusal of Ashgabat to participate in any integration projects in the post-Soviet space, as well as the dual position of Tashkent changing in accordance with this or that balance of power in the region, does not help them defend their independence more than threaten it. However, until external factors have become catastrophic, the situation will not change. The symbol of “independence” from Russia, which has become the ideal of local authorities, is their choice of routes for exporting hydrocarbons. It is not by chance that in Turkmenistan the professional holiday of the oil and gas industry workers was postponed to the day of the launch of the first stage of the gas pipeline to China.
Ashgabat's fears are exclusively historical the basis, however, is understandable from a pragmatic point of view: Turkmenistan is in the first four countries of the world in terms of natural gas reserves (after Russia, Iran and Qatar). Currently, its export is carried out only to Russia, China and Iran. However, Ashkhabad hopes that the EU-promoted Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TGG) project, which is part of the Southern Gas Corridor, will connect the Turkmen and Azerbaijani shores of the Caspian, allowing gas to be exported through Azerbaijan and Turkey to EU countries.
That is why Ashgabat insists on its right to lay a pipeline across the Caspian Sea on the basis of bilateral agreements without taking into account the opinions of all the Caspian states. This was stated by President G. Berdymukhammedov at the Astrakhan Summit of the five Caspian littoral states. Initiatives regarding the convention on international guarantees of cross-border pipelines and energy security are also aimed at maintaining the most favored treatment of the TAG. This project in the government of Turkmenistan is led by B. Khojamuhammedov - Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the fuel and energy complex. The priority tasks of the oil and gas complex, set by President Berdymukhammedov, are the start of construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline in 2015, and the completion of the East-West gas pipeline from Galkynysh to the Caspian in 2016 (which will allow gas fields to countries in a single gas transmission system) and the construction of the fourth branch (branch D) of the gas pipeline Turkmenistan - China. At the same time, the military-political situation in Afghanistan rules out the possibility of building TAPI in practice.
Beijing, which not only built pipelines from Turkmenistan at its own expense, but also allocated money to the country to develop fields and a large number of loans for other purposes, has set a relatively low price for gas and does not issue new loans to Ashgabat. As a result, the gas "independence" of Turkmenistan from Russia led to its complete dependence on China. It should be noted that before the historic visit of President Putin to Beijing, when the Russian-Chinese agreement on gas supplies was signed, President Berdymukhammedov traveled to China. They discussed the possibility of providing loans for the supply or increase the purchase price. Both requests were denied.
Price of independence
Smaller than it was planned, financial revenues from exports to China, Iran’s payment in recent years of gas supplies by commodity barter (mainly building materials), as well as the insignificant volume of pumping to Russia caused a shortage of currency in Turkmenistan. This complicated the plans of the authorities, including large-scale projects, including international commitments (the Asian Games will be held in Ashgabat in 2017, for which infrastructure facilities are being built). According to experts, the country's leadership discussed the abolition of the conversion of manat, for which all documents were prepared. We are not talking about a financial crisis yet, but without any breakthrough in gas exports, it may well occur. TAPI or TCG could strengthen the position of Turkmenistan in negotiations with both the PRC and the EU.
Sources claim that Iran will soon abandon Turkmen gas. He bought gas for the north of the country, mainly for private households. Now the Iranians have increased gas production, pulled up pipes from the south and switched to their own sources. Since the UN sanctions against Iran are currently being lifted, Iranian gas, on which the Western community relies on Russian supplies, can go to Europe, including as an alternative to Turkmen. What makes Tehran a direct competitor to Ashgabat. The situation with the Chinese market is similar.
At one time, during the visit to Turkmenistan, the then Iranian President M. Ahmadinejad announced at a meeting with G. Berdymukhammedov the possibility that Beijing and Tehran would turn to Ashgabat for permission to lay a pipeline from Iran to China through Turkmenistan, which is the only land corridor between Iran and China not controlled by the United States. The leadership of Turkmenistan has perceived even the hypothetical possibility of this kind of purely negative.
As for Russia, it minimizes the volume of gas purchased in Turkmenistan in 2015 due to a fall in demand in Europe with significant volumes of its own production level. Now Gazprom supplies Turkmenistan with 10 – 12 billion cubic meters, but in the spring Russia may well begin to cut purchases, up to complete abandonment of them. In the balance of monopoly on 2015, the Turkmen and Uzbek gas is still in place, but experts have already made the decision to abandon purchases if there is no price reduction. It was due to the fact that Turkmen fuel costs Russia in 360 – 380 dollars per thousand cubic meters. In 2005 – 2006, when Gazprom bought free gas on the world market by torpedoing the Nabucco project, these prices at the European level were fixed. However, the contract for the sale of fuel is consistent every quarter and without providing Russia with reasonable discounts from Turkmenistan, which correspond to the real situation on the market, the latter can lose it as a partner. In principle, both parties could only win if Ashgabat became a strategic partner of Moscow in the South Stream. In this case, Gazprom would automatically withdraw from the Third Energy Package of the EU, and Turkmenistan would gain access to the European market through Russia. However, neither Moscow nor Ashgabat is yet satisfied with it: the first is not ready for a partnership without discounts, the second does not want to provide them.
The fact that the PRC may well become a monopoly buyer of Turkmen gas in the short term is negatively regarded by Ashgabat - China has shown itself as a tough negotiator and an even more uncompromising partner than Russia. Accordingly, the European gas transportation route and designed to ensure the supply of the CGT is the basis of the current gas transmission strategy of Turkmenistan. Moreover, the Ukrainian crisis contributes to the maximum attention of the European Union to this project. Although the government of Turkmenistan is considering other options, for example, the development of a transport corridor to the south.
The agreement to create this corridor of the government of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Oman and Qatar was signed in April 2011. In 2013, Qatar left the project. Part of the transport and transit corridor will go by rail linking Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran, the other part - by sea from the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chakhbakhar to the ports of Oman. In August, in the capital of Oman, Muscat, 2014, the foreign ministers of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Oman signed a memorandum of understanding on the entry into force of the agreement on the creation of a transport corridor. The project should give impetus to the economic development of the participating countries, the creation of jobs, the construction of social and industrial infrastructure, as well as attract large foreign investments.
In development of this project, the President of Uzbekistan I. Karimov approved a memorandum of understanding with Turkmenistan on the implementation of the agreement on the establishment of the Central Asia - Persian Gulf transport corridor. At his suggestion, the relevant agreement was called the Ashgabat Agreement. I. Karimov instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan to send a notification to the depositary about the country's implementation of the internal procedures necessary for its entry into force. At the same time, we are talking about cargo transit, and not about supplies of Central Asian natural gas to the south, and it is doubtful whether they are possible in principle. Neither Iran, through whose territory there is transit, nor who left the project, but remains an important regional player, Qatar, does not need such supplies in the slightest.
At the same time, the increasing coordination of actions between Ashgabat and Tashkent is largely connected not so much with strategic bilateral and multilateral projects in the economic sphere, as with the current situation in Afghanistan. It is with her that observers link the extraordinary October visit of the Uzbek President to Turkmenistan. In fact, we are talking about, at least from the Uzbek side, the formation of a coalition that could really counter the threat from the territory of Afghanistan. It is possible that it will be created with the participation of Iran and Russia, as well as other regional players.
Water is a big question
In addition to purely military affairs, experts believe, the water issue, more precisely, the problem of the Amu Darya, may now be exacerbated. During Soviet times, there was a treaty in accordance with which its stock was distributed between Moscow and Kabul. Then, water projects (as well as infrastructure projects in general) became irrelevant for Afghanistan. After the entry of the troops of the Western coalition, led by the Americans, a grandiose plan appeared to build canals that would irrigate the vast territories of the Afghan left bank of the Amu Darya. Japan at the beginning of the 2000-s paid for the feasibility study of this project, including through the UN. However, after the Islamists were taken hostage by Japanese specialists, funding was discontinued.
In 2012, it became known that funds from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were ready to allocate money for the development of this territory along the Amu Darya, including reclamation work: laying of canals, land leveling, and purchasing equipment. Both in 2002 and at present, the Afghan authorities are proposing that their neighbors conclude a new agreement on the division of the waters of the Amu Darya. At the same time, the soil there is one of the best in Central Asia, and you can irrigate almost the entire Afghan part of the so-called Obruchev steppe: the zone of the “blind” river deltas - from Kunduz to Andkhoy. On the territory of Turkmenistan it is bounded from the north by the channel of the Amudarya. Moreover, the development of land from the Afghan side is likely to begin in any case, with an agreement on the section of flow or without.
Downstream of the Amu Darya, water is critically inadequate, which is manifested in the problem of the Aral Sea, the Uzbek part of which (the Southern or the Large Aral) rapidly dries up even without Kabul claiming a substantial share of the flow. As far as can be judged, we are talking about the creation of a serious food base on the territory of Afghanistan. The Arabs simply changed the Japanese and Americans in this matter. In Kyrgyzstan, and especially actively in Tajikistan, Turkish, and in the past two years, Qatari investment funds have been investing in agricultural production on the basis of serious state guarantees to protect these investments.
It is noted that Dragon Oil, a company registered in Ireland, which is owned by a UAE fund, started drilling for gas and oil in the Mazar-i-Sharif area and to the west on the Turkmen border, receiving a license from the Afghan authorities in 2013. Reserves are small there, the market is local. However, for the development of the territory in this area its own energy base is necessary - it is she who is currently preparing. For whom exactly is the question. Judging by the escalation of the situation in northern Afghanistan, an answer to it can be obtained in the near future.
Who benefits southern vulnerability
Today, the Taliban have reached almost to Kunduz. There are constant clashes with them, the militants carry out massive infiltration into the oasis. To the west, in Mazar-i-Sharif, US Army units are being replaced by special forces, which should be permanently stationed at the military base, but this process is far from complete. From Kunduz to Balkh - within reach. On the contrary, Termez, however, it is strengthened and Uzbek forces are being held there. In addition, the Amu Darya is a serious obstacle and the Uzbek part of the border is small. Significantly, if the militants reach Kunduz from Balkh, the north of Afghanistan will be completely cut off from the rest of the country - they will unite with the forces that they have in Faryab. According to estimates by the Afghan authorities, the number of militants in Faryab reaches two thousand. Events there are developing much faster than expected.
The leadership of Uzbekistan and law enforcement agencies demonstrate their determination to fight with any adversary who tries to attack the republic. In Turkmenistan, the situation is not perceived as alarming. Its border is being strengthened, retraining of personnel and gatherings of reservists are being held, but top management does not have the practical experience of conducting military operations against the Islamists, which Tashkent has. At the time of the Turkmenbashi, the Afghan-Turkmen border was the most peaceful, S. Niyazov de facto concluded a non-aggression pact with the Taliban. It is possible that his successor relies on the same scenario, which is now practically excluded.
In the future, the Islamists are preparing to seize a bridgehead outside Afghanistan. As a rule, a discussion of the direction of a possible strike by Russian experts comes down to estimates concerning the Fergana Valley. At the same time, one should not forget about Surkhandarya, a large agrarian array in Uzbekistan on the border with Afghanistan, which has direct access to the capital of Tajikistan - Dushanbe. Surkhandarya region is isolated from the rest of Uzbekistan. Many ethnic Tajiks live there, there is an intensive infiltration from the south to the areas inhabited by them, and in both directions - directly to Uzbekistan or through Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In this regard, during the top-level talks, Tashkent’s security agencies asked Ashgabat to order strengthening the section of the Turkmen-Uzbek border, from Afghan territory inland to Karshi, and to strengthen patrols (agreement in principle was obtained).
As for the battles in Afghanistan, in the province of Sari-Pul, from there it is easy to develop an offensive to the north, in Jowzdzhan, and in the Shibargan area, cut off the A76 highway (aka AN-76). This road is a continuation of the route going through Herat - Andkhoi along the border with Turkmenistan through the vilayets of Herat, Bagdis, Faryab, Jowzjan, Balkh (to the cities of Balkh and Mazar-i-Sharif). If it turns out to be cut in the Shibargan area, not far from the place of the current battles, the strategic route connecting Andkhoy with the territory of Turkmenistan through Imam-Mazar will be cut. Thus, the north is cut off from other areas of Afghanistan. If such plans of the militants, whose offensive is called “Khaybar”, are implemented, another cross-border project will stop: the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway. China needs it, but so far everything is limited to design work.
It should be noted that due to the danger for schoolchildren who in Afghanistan, as in Nigeria for Boko-Haram, are the target of Islamist attacks, the authorities closed most of the schools in the districts of Adring, Laghman, Kalai-Sokhta and Alaf Safid. Almost the entire Dashti Archi district, in 177 kilometers from the Farkhor district of Tajikistan, is under the control of the militants. Heavy fighting with them go to Chordar and Khanabad. The disturbing situation in the neighboring Imam Sahib. Local residents say that among the militants trained in Pakistan, there are people from Chechnya, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. And this once again raises the question of the influence on the situation in the Afghan-Pakistani frontier of Islamabad, as well as the role of the Islamic state in everything that happens.
The point here is not that the Islamists have a center that manages military operations and terrorist acts in the space from Pakistan to Nigeria and from Somalia to Turkey. And not that the United States, Britain, Qatar or Saudi Arabia directly manage the military-terrorist network created by them. But - about the connection of international terrorism with the routes of oil and gas supplies. What was called a century ago, "Big Game".