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Afghan Report: February 25, 2005

25 February 2005, Volume 4, Number 7
By Amin Tarzi and Daniel Kimmage

The on-again, off-again prospects of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan Natural-Gas Pipeline Project (TAP) have come alive once more with a recent decision by India's cabinet to authorize discussion of three pipeline routes to India, including TAP. Without the Indian market, TAP was not deemed a profitable undertaking. But even if New Delhi and Islamabad come to a full agreement on the project, and Kabul's enthusiasm remains at current levels, a multitude of other problems could render the pipeline no more than a pipe dream.

First envisaged in 1991, TAP is designed to transport natural gas from the Dawlatabad fields in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and eventually to India. The initial phase of the project, excluding the pipeline's possible extension to India, would involve the construction of a pipeline about 1,700 kilometers in length, mostly through Afghan territory, that can transport up to 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has financed a feasibility study for the project, has estimated that the Turkmenistan-to-Pakistan section of the pipeline would cost between $2 billion-$2.5 billion and would require four years of construction after all decisions are taken by the cooperating countries and international financial institutions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003).

According to a 14 February report by "International Oil Daily," ADB officials have confirmed that the TAP pipeline is "economically and financially a viable project." While Turkmenistan has yet to submit a certification of its Dawlatabad gas reserves, an unidentified ADB source quoted on 1 February by "Platts Energy Economist" said that the Turkmen side is expected to deliver the needed certification by March.

India's Geostrategic Fears

On the receiving end, India's reluctance to rely on gas from a pipeline crossing the territory of archrival Pakistan had proved to be a major stumbling block. However, the recent authorization given by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his country to explore several possibilities to transport much-needed natural gas to India has rekindled interest in the TAP project.

Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar told reporters in January that by looking at the region's map "you may accuse me of dreaming, but as a minister I am paid to dream." Aiyar added, "We have the Bangladesh-Burma [Myanmar] pipeline, we are looking at a pipeline from Iran that would cross Pakistan, and we want a pipeline from Turkmenistan that would cross Afghanistan and Pakistan," "Platts Energy Economist" reported on 1 February.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose country is eager to get the TAP project under way, told visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Kunwar Natwar Singh on 15 February that his country hopes New Delhi will look favorably at the trans-Afghan pipeline. A press release from Karzai's office indicated that pipeline would bring "significant economic benefit to Afghanistan and the region."

But before Karzai and his Indian and Pakistani partners begin to celebrate economic prosperity and a constructive new phase in the elusive New Delhi-Islamabad partnership, several stumbling blocks need to be cleared.

The Security Issue

Afghanistan's security remains a major question, especially if the U.S.-led coalition forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force begin to withdraw from that country. Beyond interim security, which could be provided by Provincial Reconstruction Teams under ISAF command, and perhaps air patrols by Afghanistan's future military partners, Kabul needs to extend its legal and physical authority throughout the pipeline route.

Currently there are two routes under discussion. The first runs through northern Afghanistan, cutting through Kabul before entering Pakistan; the second travels through western Afghanistan, passing through Kandahar into Pakistan.

Unfortunately, security concerns extend beyond Afghanistan. If the route through western Afghanistan emerges as the best option, the pipeline would cross Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. In January, a little-known separatist group attacked a gas-storage facility in Baluchistan. The attack was not unique, as local tribesmen increasingly are targeting natural-gas facilities in the province to settle accounts with the central government, ask for higher royalties, or promote their nationalist agendas.

If the alternative option is chosen, the pipeline would cross the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, which includes the semi-autonomous tribal areas. These regions, most notably the tribal areas, are known for their fierce independence. Both the NWFP and the adjoining Afghan border regions are also home to radical Islamists groups with very strong anti-India sentiments. A pipeline serving Indian interests would present them with a tempting target.

Turkmenistan's Price Hikes

Turkmenistan's relations with Russia are another variable in the complex equation that will determine the gas-rich Central Asian country's future deals. As RFE/RL has noted ("RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 2 December 2004), Turkmenistan has signed a 25-year "gradual increase" contract with state-controlled Russian gas company Gazprom under which Russia's purchases of Turkmen gas will rise from roughly 7 billion cubic meters in 2005 to 70 billion-80 billion cubic meters by 2009.

But the Russian-Turkmen relationship has been showing signs of strain lately. In early January, Turkmenistan strong-armed Ukraine into accepting a price hike, raising the price of gas from $44 per 1,000 cubic meters to $58. Fighting for similar gains on the Russian front, Turkmenistan shut off gas shipments to Russia in January. Gazprom head Aleksei Miller met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 10 February, but their talks were inconclusive. Although Gazprom stated in a press release after the meeting that the two sides agreed to "follow existing agreements," Turkmenistan's official news agency stressed that the current price -- $44 per 1,000 cubic meters, paid half in cash and half in kind -- is "unacceptable," Russia's "Vremya novostei" reported on 14 February. Further talks are expected.

However Gazprom and Turkmenistan resolve the price dispute, the Turkmen government's desire to force the renegotiation of an existing contract, not to mention the hardball negotiating tactics implicit in the shutoff of gas shipments to Russia, are a cautionary lesson to other would-be partners. Moreover, Gazprom has its own concerns about Turkmenistan's gas reserves. As "Nefte Compass" reported on 20 January, Gazprom is waiting to see an audit of Turkmen gas reserves conducted by Texas-based DeGolyer and MacNoughton before investing in an upgrade of the Central Asia Center pipeline.

Gazprom, which has contracted to buy large amounts of Turkmen gas to cover for declining yields at its existing fields against a backdrop of fearsome development costs for new fields in Siberia, is likely to take a dim view of any alternate export routes for Turkmenistan. State-controlled Gazprom provides a steady stream of revenues to the Russian budget, and the Kremlin can be expected to safeguard its interests. An anonymous oil-industry source told RBC on 18 January that the Russian gas company Itera, which at one point considered involvement in TAP, might have disassociated itself from the project because it "was not supported by Russian authorities."

India, now drawing attention with its interest in TAP, may also be looking to expand its ties with the Russian energy sector, and specifically Gazprom. Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar is expected in Moscow on 21 February for talks that will focus on a possible agreement between India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) and Gazprom to cooperate on natural-gas extraction projects in both Russia and India, Reuters reported. ONGC has also been conducting talks about the possibility of acquiring a stake in Yuganskneftegaz, the Yukos production asset state-owned Rosneft recently plucked from the ruins of erstwhile oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskii's empire. Should India cement its links to big state-owned players in Russia's energy industry, Moscow could increase its leverage over a potential TAP participant, rendering the dream of riches for Kabul and peace and energy for New Delhi and Islamabad a mere pipe dream.

Visit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage, Afghanistan Votes 2004-05, for the latest news, analysis, and background on the country's upcoming parliamentary elections. Find profiles of emerging political parties, and view key documents in the electoral process, plus a host of other tools to help you follow next year�s parliamentary campaigns at

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced in a 10 February press release that the organization will "proceed to further expand the International Security Assistance Force" (ISAF) into the western parts of Afghanistan, according to a copy of the release posted on the alliance's website (

The move effectively extends ISAF responsibilities to cover half of Afghanistan's roughly 650,000 square kilometers of territory (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June and 1 July 2004). The expansion will establish a permanent ISAF presence with four Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and one forward support base. Two existing PRTs in Herat and Farah provinces that are currently led by the United States would be subsumed under ISAF command. Two new PRTs will be also established: in Chaghcharan, capital of Ghor Province, under Lithuanian leadership; and in Qalah-ye Naw, capital of Badghis, with Spain in the lead role. Italy and Spain, with "substantial support from other contributors," will provide the forward support base in Herat. The date of the expansion of ISAF is unclear, but de Hoop Scheffer said it will happen "as soon as possible," AFP reported on 10 February. The Lithuanian troops are scheduled to be in Ghor between August and September, BNS reported on 10 February.

Additionally, NATO defense ministers meeting in Nice on 10 February agreed to discuss the formation of a unified command between ISAF and the U.S.-led coalition forces, AFP reported.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck suggested that Berlin is softening its opposition to the idea of merging of the two commands. According to aspects of the country's constitution applicable to its Afghan deployment, German combat troops must not be deployed outside of its territory while the coalition forces are engaged in sporadic battles with the neo-Taliban and other militants. Germany leads all contributors to ISAF with 2,250 troops stationed in Afghanistan, both in Kabul and in the northeastern part of the country.

In a related story, in a ceremony held in Kabul on 13 February, Turkey assumed command of ISAF for a period of six months, Anatolia news agency reported. Lieutenant General Etham Erdagi is leading the force, which consists of 8,500 troops. Turkey commanded ISAF between June 2002 and February 2003. Erdagi said ISAF's mission will remain the same, namely to "provide security in Afghanistan and to provide a safe and secure environment in which the government of Afghanistan can run the country," RFE/RL reported on 13 February.

The main challenge now facing ISAF is the upcoming parliamentary election. German General Gerhard Back, commander of the Allied Joint Force Command in Afghanistan, said reinforcements ISAF is planning for the polls will "go along the line of those for the presidential election [in October 2004], except with more emphasis on air mobility, to get more flexibility to move forces around in the country, if there is need."

Speaking during the change-of-command ceremony, NATO officials urged Afghanistan to decide on a date for the parliamentary elections, Reuters reported.

"We count on the Afghan government and the international agencies involved to decide as soon as possible on the election time schedule," said Beck, who has overall command of ISAF operations. Meanwhile, Hikmet Cetin, NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, said if the election is delayed beyond the first week of July, it might conflict with the next rotation of ISAF troops, which takes place every six months. If it is not possible to hold the election before the first week of July, Cetin said it would be better to postpone the vote "until September and beyond."

During a session on 14 February, the cabinet discussed upcoming parliamentary elections, Radio Afghanistan reported.

Besmellah Besmel, head of the Independent Election Commission, submitted a report on preparations for the polls, including setting a date for the election; conducting a census; allocating seats to provincial representatives; defining electoral district boundaries; working on ways to measure public opinion; deciding on ways to include candidates representing Afghan refugees and nomads living abroad; and conducting background checks on candidates. The cabinet decided to form a commission headed by Second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili to compare a new census, "carried out on the basis of assumptions by the Statistics Department," with the country's previous census. A second commission, led by Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, was tasked with looking at the possibility of postponing district council elections and working on the procedures for distribution of seats in the upper house of parliament.

Afghanistan's parliamentary elections, which were originally slated for June 2004, had been rescheduled for the month of Saur 1384 in the Afghan calendar (20 April-21 May 2005) but may be delayed again because of procedural issues (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 January 2005). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters in Kabul on 14 February that talks with the neo-Taliban are producing good results, with better outcomes expected in the near future, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Khalilzad reiterated his previous call for the neo-Taliban to lay down their weapons and join the Afghan government. In a related story, the Peshawar daily "Wahdat" on 12 February, quoting an unidentified source in the U.S.-led coalition, reported that several neo-Taliban leaders have contacted the Afghan government and want to assist in the reconstruction process and join the political process.

The issue of reconciliation with most members of the neo-Taliban was raised by President Hamid Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been discussed by Khalilzad since April 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003 and 28 April, 25 October, 8 November, and 8 and 17 December 2004).

Neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi on 15 February refuted reports that the militia has negotiated with the Afghan government, Pajhwak reported. Hakimi challenged the government to name one neo-Taliban member who is negotiating. "Anybody who is talking with the Americans is just bowing down before them," Hakimi added.

Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin told reporters on 15 February that Khalilzad's remarks the day earlier, represented his personal views, Pajhwak reported.

According to an unidentified Western official, four former Taliban leaders have accepted the reconciliation offer from the Afghan government, "The Washington Post," reported on 16 February. The source identified the four as Abdul Hakim Mujahed, the Taliban's former unofficial envoy to the United Nations; Arsala Rahmani, the former deputy minister of higher education; Ramatullah Wahidyar, the former deputy minister of refugees and returnees; and Fawzi, who worked as a diplomat in the Taliban regime's embassies in Riyadh and Islamabad.

All four are from the southeastern Paktiya Province. In January, Paktiya Governor Asadullah Wafa said talks with the former Taliban were going forward in line with the reconciliation policy laid out by Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 January 2005). According to the source, 22 lower-ranking members of the former Taliban regime also have agreed to participate in the amnesty offer.

Mujahed said on 20 February confirmed that he is holding talks with the Afghan government, however not as a member of the Taliban, but as a member of his party, the Khaddam al-Furqan (Servants of the Koran), an old Afghan political organization that was active prior to 1973, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported.

"We have held these talks with Kabul to strengthen national unity, national accord, and peace. We have reached an agreement with officials to this effect," Mujahed told AIP. According to Mujahed, his team will formulate their "policy in the next two to three days" in order to carry out their "activities accordingly." He did not elaborate what those activities might be. Former Taliban leader Mullah "Mohammad Omar is no longer our leader," Mujahed added.

Kabul's reconciliation plans where backed by U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Kabul on 16 February that his country welcomes President Karzai's policy to offer amnesty to most former members of the Taliban regime, Reuters reported. "In any post-conflict situation, there has to be reconciliation with people who are adversaries," Straw told reporters. According to Straw, reaching out to the "Taliban who are, as it were, simply the foot soldiers, that is a good idea." However, he said he understands Kabul's "determination to bring to justice those who are simply war criminals."

In a related story, Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban, on 16 February denied rumors that former Taliban leader Mullah Omar has died, AIP reported.

"I spoke to [Mullah Omar's] deputy, Mullah Obaidullah, seven or eight minutes ago and he told me that Mullah Omar is alive and well," Hakimi told AIP in a telephone interview from an undisclosed area. According to the report, rumors have been circulating in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan that Mullah Omar had died in southern Zabul Province due to cold weather. Hakimi dismissed the reports as "enemy propaganda to lower Taliban morale." (Amin Tarzi)

President Karzai met on 16 February with visiting British Foreign Secretary Straw in Kabul and discussed the country's counternarcotics plan, Radio Afghanistan reported. Britain has led international efforts to cut Afghanistan's drug production (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2004).

"The people of Afghanistan turned to poppy cultivation because of invasion, interference, as well as neglect by the international community over the past year," Karzai said. Afghan are victims of the drug "menace and should not be blamed for it," he added.

Straw said the United Kingdom will increase its financial support for Afghanistan's counternarcotics effort from $50 million to $100 million. According to Straw, half of the British aid will be allocated to providing alternative livelihoods for farmers who abandon opium-poppy cultivation.

In a press conference in Kabul with his Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Abdullah, on 16 February, Straw said spraying herbicides on opium-poppy fields is one means available to battle the drugs trade, Afghan Voice Agency reported. Straw said he believes such spraying can be implemented without harming other crops or humans.

The Afghan government is strongly opposed to the aerial spraying of opium-poppy crops. Some Afghans have recently claimed that people have been harmed by alleged cases of aerial spraying (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004 and 31 January and 11 February 2005).

During his visit to Kabul on 16 February, Straw said that his government has nominated a new counternarcotics commission to lead the war against opium-poppy cultivation with the cooperation of the Afghan government, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 17 February. British Lieutenant General John McColl, who led the ISAF in 2001-02, is to lead the commission.

Meanwhile, elders and tribal leaders from Bakwa District of western Farah Province warned representatives from Kabul in a meeting on 10 February that they will resume the cultivation of opium poppies if pledges made to them are not honored, AIP reported.

An unidentified participant in the meeting was quoted as saying the Afghan government has not acted on promises made to farmers on stopping opium-poppy cultivation. The report does not elaborate on the nature of Kabul's pledges.

In a more positive note, some farmers in southern Nangarhar Province who have stopped cultivating opium poppies are to try their hands at fish farming, Pajhwak reported on 17 February.

Relief International, an international nongovernmental organization, is planning to build fish farms in Nangarhar. A local farmer said: "I was sowing poppy to earn a lot of money. When I can earn legal money by selling fish, there is no need to sow poppy."

Alternative subsistence programs are needed to stem Afghan farmers increasing dependence on opium-poppy cultivation. However, success largely depends on whether alternatives such as fish farming will generate enough income to persuade farmers to stop growing opium poppies. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai, at the head of a large delegation, made an official visit to Saudi Arabia from 20 to 21 February, Afghanistan Television reported on 21 February. Karzai held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah al-Saud and addressed the Jeddah Economic Forum. The Afghan leader invited Saudi investments in Afghanistan, referring to his country as "an open opportunity," for businesses, the Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 21 February. (Amin Tarzi)

While attending the Jeddah Economic Forum, Karzai met with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on 21 February, the Jeddah daily "Arab News" reported. In an interview with "Arab News," Aziz said that while his country and Afghanistan enjoy good relations and are cooperating on the war on terror, the "security situation in Afghanistan is far from satisfactory, given the fact that much of the country is controlled by warlords." Aziz said that he and Karzai discussed the issue of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 February 2005 and feature above). Aziz did not elaborate on the pipeline project, adding only that the "situation in Afghanistan is improving." The tenuous security situation in Afghanistan is one of the obstacles facing the pipeline project. (Amin Tarzi)

Speaking in Kabul on 13 February, Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi warned militia commanders who have not yet joined the UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program to do so, Radio Afghanistan reported. Azimi said if these commanders do not join the DDR program, their units will not qualify for the privileges currently being offered to militias joining the program.

According to Azimi, 75 percent of the DDR program has been completed thus far, totaling around 39,000 militia members and other armed men. Azimi put the strength of the Afghan National Army, which will replace the various armed groups, at 25,000 troops. While Azimi did not name any militias, the weekly DDR report covering 31 January to 6 February indicated the "DDR process has slowed down during the past week due to weather conditions and a lack of commitment from commanders within Kabul region." (Amin Tarzi)

Representatives of 17 political parties told a news conference in Kabul on 14 February they want to amend the current Afghan Constitution, Radio Afghanistan reported. The party representatives proposed amending Articles 159 and 160 of the constitution in order to "create an open political atmosphere for the participation of political parties" in provincial councils and districts elections. Party representatives argued the provisions in the constitution were written in an emergency situation and need to be changed.

The report was unclear as to what changes are being proposed, however. The two articles in question deal with the possibility of holding the presidential election before parliamentary polls and enumerate some of the powers of the president in the interim period before the formation of a parliament. The provisions are of a transitional nature, however, and should not apply to future Afghan elections. (Amin Tarzi)

Kabul police on 14 February arrested five people for reproducing DVDs containing scenes exhibiting naked or semi-naked people, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 15 February. Abdul Latif Ahmadi, head of Afghan Films, said the DVDs contained "immoral films" that run counter to Afghan culture. In addition to the five suspects, police also confiscated recording devices and DVD players. The son of one of the arrestees claimed that the police searched his father's shop and found nothing incriminating, but they nevertheless arrested his father, who he said was innocent. Kabul police recently launched a crackdown on immoral behavior or practices (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 February 2005). (Amin Tarzi)

While outlining the 2005 supplemental budget request before the U.S. Senate's Appropriation Committee on 17 February, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mentioned that $2.2 billion has been requested for Afghanistan (for the transcript of the speech, see As part of the $5.6 billion designated for international affairs projects in the supplemental budget, which Rice described as essential and urgent, Afghanistan would receive the largest share, if the budget is approved by the Senate as presented. Rice said $265 million would be used toward funding "democracy and governance programs"; $769 million for rehabilitation and reconstruction projects "to improve the lives of Afghan citizens"; $509 million for counternarcotics efforts; $233 million to "replenish resources" that were set aside for counternarcotics programs but reallocated for other uses; $400 million for revamping the Afghan police force; and $60 million to compensate for increased security costs at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The funds requested by Rice are separate from the $82 billion that Bush has already requested from Congress to pay for military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere as part of the war on terrorism. (Amin Tarzi)

Czech Defense Minister Karel Kuehnl said on 10 February that his country will send 40 additional troops to serve in the German-led PRT based in Fayzabad, capital of the northeastern Badakhshan Province, CTK reported. The Czech Republic currently maintains only a team of 15 explosives experts in Afghanistan. Regarding joining the commands of ISAF and the coalition forces, Kuehnl said that while not all NATO members "share this view..., in the end the forces will have to have a joint command." (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai on 17 February appointed Monshi Abdul Majid as governor of the northeastern Badakhshan Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai also appointed Zarar Ahmad Moqbel as deputy interior minister for security affairs. Likewise, on 20 February Karzai appointed Abdul Jabar Taqwa as the governor of Parwan Province; Abdul Satar Morad as the governor of Kapisa Province; and Tamim Nuristani as the governor of Nuristan Province. Parwan and Kapisa are located north of Kabul and Nuristan is in northeastern Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

20 February 1919 � Amir Habibullah assassinated in Laghman.

14 February 1989 � The last Soviet soldier leaves Kabul airport.

13 February 2001 � The United States orders the Taliban offices in New York closed.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).