| ||Gas pipeline: Iran elbows out Afghanistan|
By Abdul Rauf Liwal
KABUL - Iran has wrested the opportunity from Afghanistan by nearing an accord with Pakistan and India on a seven billion dollars gas pipeline project.
The opportunity for Afghanistan was in the shape of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline but it was snatched by Iran as the three countries have agreed in principle to give implement the multi-billion gast project.
Earlier, officials of the three countries had held nine meetings to reach an accord on the gas pipeline from the Central Asian state via Afghanistan to Pakistan.
The US will be dismayed as its oil and gas company UNOCAL efforts to pass gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan had been delayed because India and Pakistan have opted sign an accord with Iran, analysts say.
The deteriorating security situation in the southwest of Afghanistan and in Balochistan was also point to the fact that circumstances for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project were not suitable.
Analysts believe that Iran's attempt to browbeat the US on the pipeline issue is a signal to the Karzai government that it was too sluggish and inefficient to get the pact singed first.
On Thursday, Pakistan's Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Amanullah Khan Jadoon informed the Senate that work on Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project was likely to start during 2007. The Minister said the Working Group constituted between the Petroleum Ministries of Iran and Pakistan had held four meetings so far and in the last meeting in November the issue on the project from the point of view of seller and buyer were deliberated upon.
Waheed Mozhda, a Kabul-based analyst, said Iran had been attempting since long not to allow the Central Asian pipeline to pass through Afghanistan. He believed the neighbouring country was passing the impression to the partners that some parts of Afghanistan were still not suitable from security point of view for the project. He said the Afghan government had so far failed to constitute a team of experts to work out a plan for attracting foreign investment, particularly in regard to the pipeline project.
Professor Saifuddin Saihoon of the Economics Faculty of Kabul University said Iran interfering in the Central Asian gas pipeline project via Afghanistan as the latter believed it was supported by its enemy, the United States.
"Iran is attempting since long to pass on the impression to the world that the three-nation gas pipeline project via Afghanistan was not viable as security situation in that country was not suitable," Saihoon told Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday.
Iran is the second largest natural gas producer in the world and the worlds fourth largest producer of crude oil. For its part, India is the second largest oil consumer in the world and that is why Iran tried its best to defeat the American firm UNOCAL.
Mozhda said that any act on part of Iran to expand its influence in the region was against interests of the United States, which tries to further isolate and economically weaken Iran.
He noted US wanted to keep an extra or reserve oil source for meeting its demands in case the oil producing Islamic countries stop giving it the black gold. The Baku-Turkey gas pipeline extended to Jaihan Port of Turkey is an example. The project is funded by US and it is mostly used by Israel.
The Central Asian pipeline project's main backers were US former ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad, President Hamid Karzai, his slain minister of mines and industries Juma Mohammad Mohammadi and Professor Salaam Azimi. But when Mohammadi was killed in a plane crash and Khalilzad reshuffled to Baghdad, the Afghan government was forced to hand over the project's implementation to the Asian Development Bank, Mozhda observed.
Gul Ahmad Kamali, head of the energy and road projects with ADB, told Pajhwok that the tenth meeting of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan was to be held during the current month on implementation of the three-country scheme.
Security situation has improved now in Afghanistan and after the three countries agree on the long-awaited extension of the pipeline, its will be presented for bidding. So far some American, Turkish, Chinese and Azerbaijani firms have showed interest.
However, Mozhda said implementation of the project was still under threat as security was still not satisfactory in areas from which the gas pipeline has to be passed.
"Areas through which the pipeline has to be passed are Murghab, Badghis, Kandahar and Sui area of Pakistan its in Balochistan province, which are dangerous from security point of view. Besides, the Taliban have also intensified their insurgency in those areas," said Mozhda.
He added Turkmenistan's gas supply was less than demand of the region as there would be a demand of 110 million barrels of gas by 2010 and the production of Central Asia's reserves is estimated around four million barrels.