Turkmenistan: Gas Deal with Pakistan for TAPI Not Quite There Yet
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov made a state visit to Pakistan November 14 and cut a gas deal with Pakistan, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan and international wire services reported.
Reuters reported that Turkmenistan and Pakistan had "agreed" on a price for its gas to be sold to Pakistan in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.
Yet Reuters also cited Turkmen government officials requesting anonymity who said neither the exact price of gas or the volume of the sale were set. And Pakistan's largest circulation daily The Dawn reported more prudently that the two countries had "agreed to expedite energy projects."
That means negotiations could still well drag on, delaying TAPI, despite an agreement by the state parties nearly a year ago in Ashgabat in December 2010. The 1,700-kilometer pipeline, currently estimated to cost $7.6 billion is intended to deliver about 33 billion cubic meters per year, Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Bayramgeldy Nedirov said recently.
While Neitral'niy Turkmenistan, the state daily, reported on the signing of a joint declaration on the sale and purchase of gas, no more details were provided. When Ashgabat finally signs gas deals -- and it can sign them quickly under the right conditions as it did with China -- the details may not be reported, and the only way you can be sure they are concluded is when the pictures of construction workers start appearing.
Berdymukhamedov met with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Razi Gilani during this trip, his first to Pakistan. While earlier this year, there were reports that New Delhi has agreed on a price with Ashgabat, bypassing Islamabad, Reuters said "negotiations with India, the final country on the pipeline route, are being conducted separately." There's also still the transit price over Afghanistan to be bargained-- and of course even more important, the issue of security for TAPI, which will run through areas of armed conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A disturbing sign in that regard was that Pakistan's military chiefs were reported to "stay away" from the presidential banquet with Berdymukhamedov, according to Pakistan's daily The News. The chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the three armed services chiefs were not present at the meetings with the Turkmen leader.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Petroleum Minister Syed Naveed Qamar and other parliamentarians attended a banquet in the Turkmen leader's honor, reported Pakistan's Business Recorder.
Answering a query about the missing military men, a spokesman from the Inter-Services Public Relations office said, "They did not attend because they were not invited to attend," The News reported. When chased by reporters, each Pakistani military official individually seemed to have the excuse that he was either out of town during the Turkmen leader's visit, or absent when invitations were sent. Yet the optics were still troubling in a meeting without them, as much could depend on their cooperation.
"Normally, at all such presidential banquets held in the past, all the services chiefs and chairman JCSC were not only invited but the Presidency made it a point to ensure their attendance at such banquets hosted by the president who is constitutional supreme commander of the Pakistan Armed Forces," said The News.
We can only speculate as to the reasons for the absence of the military brass at a presidential visit where they would normally be present. Does it involve some internal clash with Zardari not specifically related to Turkmenistan? "Unease" in ties between the civilian government and the military could be the reason, says The Hindustan Times
Or is this about being left out of security arrangements for the pipeline that the military feels it should control? Or it is refusal to enter into an international agreement involving India? Or perhaps defiance of a US-backed project? Or is too much being made of the incident? (Nothing is said anywhere about the possible spoiler factor for TAPI from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI]), given its known current animosity to the US and India.
Another possible trigger for delay of the pipeline is Pakistan's intention, now that it has reportedly reached agreement with Turkmenistan on a gas price, to negotiate for a reduction in the cost of Iranian gas. That might be difficult as Iran will not want to come down in price (and has no reason now to help Turkmenistan). The US has put pressure on Pakistan not to buy gas from Iran or pursue the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, and has urged it to seek alternatives. Washington "has relentlessly been pushing for TAPI,"says Pakistan's daily Dawn. Pakistan's Business Recorder has pointed out the "security premium" Pakistan will have to pay ultimately for Turkmen gas, and likely at a price higher than the Chinese are getting that same gas for now.
The US-based Pakistan Today said in an editorial titled "Not Pipe Dreams" that Islamabad might find its own reasons for completing the deal with Ashgabat and starting TAPI -- getting a better gas rate negotiated with Turkmenistan could make Iran come down in price.