World competition around the natural resources of Central Asia and the Caspian is not new, but the collapse of the Soviet empire has revived it. This region, believed to possess huge oil and gas reserves, is also a point of contact of different civilizations and an arena for several competing powers: Russia, Iran, China and India, as well as the United States. The September 11 attacks have not only transformed Central Asia into a battlefield of the Global War on Terror, but also reasserted its importance as a potential energy supplier alternative to other US “allies” who proved to be less reliable. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the region and in the world. But this unfortunate nation also seems to hold the key of this new “Great Game” played between regional and world powers. Indeed, Afghanistan has an obvious strategic position between the Caspian energy reserves and the Indian Subcontinent with its energy-hungry economies. Considering US constant policy of isolation of Islamic Iran and Russia's unaltered thirst for domination over its former empire, the Afghan corridor has been quickly identified as a promising way for the export of Caspian hydrocarbons to the South Asian market – a new Silk Road, some would say. Yet, more than a decade after the first tangible Trans-Afghan Pipeline (TAP, also standing for Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan) project, construction has not begun and no one would bet on a date even today.
[...] The TAP pipeline helps to answer the first objective by providing natural gas to South and South-East Asia, which would affect positively global energy prices. Second, despite the end of the Cold War, the US does not trust Russia and wants to take advantage of the collapse of the former empire. This is not so much a question of revenge as an issue of energy security: Russia uses pipeline routes to keep former Soviet republics under control and this situation of dependency could be extended to Europe with considerable political consequences[xxiv]. [...]
[...] How Democratic Upheavals can affect Pipeline Routes As we discuss US stakes and policies in Central Asia, we cannot ignore some developments that could change the deal. Recent upheavals in the former Soviet Union have shaken our perspective of the region which too often remained as rigid as the regimes in power in these states. The same scenario stolen elections, mass demonstrations, regime collapse and democratization has taken place three times in the last one year and a half: in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. [...]
[...] Alternative Projects[vii] To access the European market by avoiding Russia, Turkmenistan also looks to a pipeline through Iran and Turkey, but faces US opposition to any project involving the Islamic Republic. Nevertheless, Ashgabat constructed the Korpezhe-Kurt Kui pipeline with Tehran in 1997 and now exports 6.5 billion cu. m. of gas through Iran. The US backs another pipeline project under the Caspian Sea to Baku then Turkey, joining the already existing BTC, but Turkey has expressed little interest in Turkmen gas since it has access to Azeri hydrocarbons. [...]
[...] The main condition for the construction of the TAP pipeline peace in Afghanistan was almost realized and all the concerned regional actors demonstrated their interest in the revival of the Unocal project[xii], with the notable exception of Unocal itself. Despite the continuing fighting with the last Taliban and persisting tensions between India and Pakistan, the heads of state of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan officially put on track the pipeline project on May 29th 2002 in Islamabad[xiii]: a steering committee with governmental officials was created and met several times until the Framework Agreement prepared by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was signed in December 2002 in Ashgabat[xiv]. [...]
[...] The stakes are enormous for many actors, which explains the persisting interest of many in developing this project and in stalling it, for others. Turkmenistan's Inaccessible Wealth Turkmenistan is a good representation of Central Asia and the Caspian region: newly independent, rich in natural resources, isolated from dynamic markets, with a poor population, authoritarian and potentially unstable. The country possesses the world's 4th or 5th gas reserves (more than 2 trillion cu. but needs connections to outside markets to sell its precious resource[ii]. [...]
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