Iran meddling in TAPI?
Local authorities in Herat, Helmand, Farah and Kandahar provinces insist interference by Iran is one of the main obstacles preventing the completion of the ambitious TAPI project.
Interviews with local authorities as well as Ministry of Mines and Petroleum reveal only scanty work on the pipeline in Herat province. This, they all say, is because the Iranian government is financially and militarily supporting armed groups so that the war and security threats are intensified on the route of the TAPI gas pipeline. The project seeks to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. TAPI is an acronym of the first letter of the name of the four countries involved.
Authorities say security threats have intensified along the route of the pipeline which goes through the districts of Shindand, Keshk Kohna and Gulran in Herat province, Khak e Safed and Bala Bollok in Farah, Musa Kala, Washer and Greshk in Helmand and Maiwand, Spin Boldak, Zherai and Dand in Kandahar.
Not just local authorities are accusing Iran of delaying the TAPI project but also surrendered anti-government fighters who have joined the peace process recently also claim that Tehran is financially funding armed opponents on the route of the TAPI project. Three armed groups joined the peace process in Herat province after the survey work of the TAPI project was started. Based on their statements, it seems the government of Iran encourages and even supports militarily the armed opponents to sabotage the TAPI project implementation.
Nazir Ahmad is one of the surrendered fighters who joined the peace committee in Herat province two weeks back. He says, "Our commanders are being supported in Iran and we are being ordered to fight the Afghan security forces so that obstacles are established on the way of TAPI implementation and its implementation is delayed." On the other hand, the Afghan government had promised at the start of the TAPI project to establish a special unit to ensure the security of the project route but the plan remains on paper.
Najibullah Danesh, the spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs, says that security arrangements have been planned by the deputy minister's office for economic projects specifically TAPI and a special unit will be set up soon.
On the ground
Regarding the reports of Iran's financial and military support for armed opponents to sabotage the TAPI project, he told Killid, "There is not yet any authentic document in this regard." He however pointed out that "some" countries are not willing to see the economic development of Afghanistan. Jailani Farhad, spokesperson to the Herat governor, identified security threats as the main problem in the way of the TAPI project implementation.
He named the districts of Shindand, Gulran and Keshk Nakhod as the most insecure along the pipeline.
Farhad adds that armed opponents are being supported technically and in procuring equipment by foreign elements specifically Iran.
He said the evidence at this stage is nothing more than statements of anti-government fighters who have joined the peace process.
He reiterated that special security units would be deputed to police the pipeline.
Ziaulhaq Popal, head of Herat Mines and Petroleum Authority, says a survey of the project in Guzara district is underway. There is no official word on when the survey will be completed.
In Farah, the pipeline has been routed through three districts. The ongoing war has spilt into the provincial capital.
Naser Mehri, spokesperson to the governor of Farah, believes that the Iran government is supporting the armed opponents of the government militarily and financially. He says no practical step has yet been taken for implementation of the TAPI project due to the severity of war and only people are supporting the project.
He says that the TAPI project pipeline passes through the districts of Balabollok, Parchaman and Khak e Safed – the first two districts are the most insecure in the province.
TAPI will pass through the districts of Washer, Greshk and Musa Kala in Helmand province. Like Farah, Helmand is also insecure. Fear of war has hobbled TAPI in the province.
Omar Zwak, the governor's spokesperson, says that sabotaging economic projects is the main goal of armed opponents in Helmand province. According to Zwak, no practical steps have been taken yet on the TAPI project due to severity of war in Helmand province. He claims the districts of Washer, Greshk and Musa Kala are witness to more insecurity because they are located on the route of the TAPI project. He says that security forces are trying to launch cleaning operations to ensure security in the three districts.
Meanwhile, in the province of Kandahar, which is also in the route of the pipeline, on May 21, five employees of a demining organisation who were demining for TAPI project were abducted and then killed by the anti-government fighters. Mohammad Dawood Ahmadi, the spokesperson for Kandahar, also expressed concern about interference of Iran in sabotaging the TAPI project and says that Iran is fearful of the implementation of economic projects in Afghanistan. Ahmadi clearly says that despite the ever present threat to security along the route of the pipeline from Turkmenistan to India the Afghan government is being secretive about its plans for providing security.
He says that as well as security threats, the demining organisations have also started work without coordination, adding to the delays. The Taliban, meanwhile, have in a declaration announced their support for the TAPI project.
Killid repeatedly sought an interview with Iran's diplomatic representatives in Herat regarding the concerns raised by local authorities in provinces affected by TAPI but no one was willing to talk.
Earlier, Iranian officials in the consulate in Herat had rejected the claims in this regard.
The Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum neither rejects nor confirms the creation of obstacles on the way TAPI implementation by Iran. Ministry authorities say that TAPI is a priority project for the government. Abdul Qadeer Motafi, spokesperson for the mines and petroleum ministry told Killid that there are security threats on the route of the TAPI project in Afghanistan and efforts are on to secure the pipeline.
He explains the allocated budget for TAPI project implementation is 8 billion USD – 85 percent paid by Turkmenistan and the rest divided among Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. At the project opening ceremony the AsDB (Asian Development Bank) promised to financially support Afghanistan but now Motafi, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, says the bank would be only the financial manager of the project.
He clarified that it is still not known who will be the source of Afghanistan's share. Motafi announced works such as cleaning the mines; survey and 'estemlak' (getting possession) are underway on the route of the project. Abdul Jalil Sadeq, in charge of Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan in western Afghanistan, says that technical survey of demining has started in those areas the pipe line will pass through. He claims an area of 482 sq km located in Herat has been covered, and both survey and demining will soon be completed. He sees the security threats and severity of war as the main problems in their work in Farah province and says that a delegation has been assigned and sent for coordination and security of demining teams to Farah province. Based on the information of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, Afghanistan would earn an amount between 400 and 500 billion USD annually as transit rights, and also get enough gas for its own consumption.
The TAPI project would also provide job opportunities for many thousand individuals. The total length of the pipeline is 1,735 km – 735 km is through Afghan territory.
Secure the project
Threats to the security of the pipeline, completion of administrative works, and lack of coordination among the concerned offices have also been seen as problems in the way of the implementation of the project.
Popal, the head of Herat Mines and Petroleum, says that TAPI Limited Company has created problems abroad for implementation of the project. He sees the lack of coordination and delay in processing the contracts of TAPI in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other concerned offices as main problems in the way of TAPI implementation. He says that if the project implementation continues to be slow it will not be able to keep to its deadline.
Sebghatullah Ahmadi, the acting head of the press department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says that the processing of contracts and agreements related to the TAPI project would be soon completed by the foreign ministry and handed over to concerned offices. He said there is need for coordination and cooperation among the partner countries of TAPI project for on time implementation of the project. Though he neither rejected nor confirmed the interference of Iran in the TAPI project, he insisted on the need for maintaining cordial relations between Afghanistan and Iran. Some of the members of provincial councils in western zone see the TAPI project as a big achievement for the present Afghan government of national unity. Sayed Azim Kabarzani has the same view. Though he sees TAPI as a major achievement of the government, he believes Kabul should find a solution to the problems that have come in the way of the implementation of the TAPI project through diplomatic efforts and good offices of international backers in the country.
Dadullah Qanea, a deputy in the Farah provincial council, believes that the government does not have a strong will for the implementation of the TAPI project. He says that despite the fact that war in Farah is one of the main factors affecting the passage of the pipe line the government has not been able to stop the fighting.
He says that facts about the war in Farah have been frequently reported to the central authorities but the government has not taken any action in this regard. The agreement to build a gas pipe line between Turkmenistan and India was signed on 11 December 2010 in the presence of high ranking authorities from the four countries of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Though the process of opening ceremony of the project was delayed twice, it eventually started in 2017. The project was begun in Afghanistan in 2018 and is scheduled to end in 2020.