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The Trans-Afghan pipeline project: History, stakes and perspectives

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Turkmenistan's inaccessible wealth.
  3. Turkmen gas and Russian pipelines.
  4. Alternative projects.
  5. War and peace in Afghanistan.
  6. Post-Taliban Afghanistan and the revival of the project.
  7. Winners and losers.
  8. Other obstacles on the way of the Trans-Afghan pipeline.
  9. The Stakes for the United States.
  10. Recent developments.
  11. How democratic upheavals can affect pipeline routes.
  12. Bibliography.

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. [...]

[...] Other Obstacles on the Way of the Trans-Afghan Pipeline A recurrent objection raised by many to the TAP project is the persisting instability of Afghanistan, with ongoing fights against the Taliban and uncontrollable warlords ruling various provinces. This analysis, to some extend correct, becomes less representative of the Afghan reality day after day, especially since the October 2004 presidential election and the dramatic decrease in terrorist activity that followed. Even if the environment remains far from ideal, it is expected to improve with time. [...]

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