Project of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India may become a challenge to Moscow
Postponed more than once already, beginning of construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan to Pakistan to India is a matter of a few months now. The agreement was made at the two-day regional conference "Asia: Energy Cooperation" in New Delhi. Eighteen countries including Russia participated in the conference. Construction of the pipeline 1,680 kilometers long will cost $3.3 billion. The Great Asian Pipe will run from Dovletad in Turkmenistan via Kandahar (Afghanistan) to the settlement of Fazilka in India on the Indian-Pakistani border. The feasibility study will probably be provided by Penspen of Great Britain, presumably the management company.
Presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan signed the framework accord in 2003. Tempted as it was by financial considerations, official Islamabad was nevertheless reluctant to become a party to the strengthening of India through guaranteed gas deliveries. Encouraged and backed by Washington and London, Afghani Foreign Minister Dadfar Spanta at the New Delhi conference openly urged Islamabad to finally give his country a transport corridor to India. It worked - or so it seems.
The future gas pipeline in the meantime is in the focus of another intrigue, one that can be traced to Ashkhabad. President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov has actively promoted the Asian project for the last year or two, simultaneously with Moscow's lobbyism of Gazprom and its global interests. It is common knowledge that it took Turkmen gas to finally resolve the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis. The motives of the Turkmenbashi's relations with Gazprom, however, remained mostly hidden. Could it be that Niyazov saw the Asian project as a chance to arrange direct export of Turkmen gas? Could it be that he chose to rely on Gazprom's export capacities even here?
One other nuance directly concerns Moscow that seems to have gained confidence in its ability to act in several directions at once. Its reasoning comes down to the simple thesis: if Europe proves intractable, we'll find customers in Asia. Russia's geopolitical rivals in the meantime are busy. New Delhi conference indicates that they actively promote alternative projects and first and foremost in the very heart of Asia. It means that the geostrategic game of the 21st century may actually fail to follow the Moscow script.
Boris Yunanov, Novye Izvestia, November 21, 2006