by Claudio Bertolotti
News about energy and infrastructures
Talks on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project are in progress, even though Pakistan refused to participate to the quadrilateral held on 22 August as a result of the escalation of violence along the Line of Control. The meeting coincided with the visit to India by representatives of the US State Department and Chevron (interested in investing in the TAPI) to discuss issues regarding the TAPI project.
At the moment, Islamabad is left with two options:
1. either dropping the IP pipeline project or getting the support of large international stakeholder (as China);
2. starting to take shape as China is keen on linking the IP pipeline with the touted 2,000 km-long Kashgar-Gwadar transport corridor.
It is not excluded that China and Pakistan will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to develop the Kashgar-Gwadar corridor that some sources say will include the IP gas pipeline.
At the same time, the main Amu Darya basin oil extraction project (result of a joint venture between the China National Petroleum Corporation and Afghanistan’s Watan Oil and Gas) has been halted in northern Afghanistan due to the lack of a transit agreement for the extracted product. The extraction of oil began last October without a transit agreement with the Uzbek government. Jalil Jumriany, Policy Director at the Ministry of Mines, affirmed that talks are underway for an agreement with the Uzbek government.
The Herat main airport would be reconstructed with financial support from Italy and Spain. The comprehensive renovation of Herat International Airport is expected to cost four/seven million dollars, but the contract is not yet solidified.
Governor Wahidi said that he already talked with officials from the Italian Embassy; (former) Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, confirmed that Italy would support the airport's reconstruction.
Spanish officials have also agreed to cooperate with Italy in the airport reconstruction.
The Herat International Airport, regardless of its name, does not support international flights. It is only a hub for daily flights to and from Kabul.
The electoral process is ongoing: real concerns about the Afghan ability to deliver on its election promises.
Following the examination reported on CeMiSS Quarterly Summer n. 2/2013, according to the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC), the candidates interested to participate to the Afghan presidential election running (planned in April 2014) are required to register between 16 September and 06 October. Although (at 8th of September) no party has yet formally announced names of presidential nominees, several names of potential contenders have emerged. These include:
- Umer Daudzai, an ethnic Pashtun, currently Afghan ambassador to Pakistan.
- Abdullah Abdullah (who ran against President Karzai in the 2009 presidential election), former Afghan foreign minister and current chief of the National Coalition of Afghanistan party.
- Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, former Mujahedeen commander and at present chief of Islamic Dawah Organization of Afghanistan.
Several local sources reported President Karzai urged Afghan political parties to support Sayyaf. Karzai didn’t confirm his support to Karzai.
Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) would field a presidential candidate if their demands were endorsed. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the party, offered the Kabul government a two-point proposal for his group’s participation in the 2014 presidential election:
- a complete pull out of foreign troops and
- vote transparency.
What is important to underline is that while HIA’s participation is welcomed but, more important, it is the Taliban (Mullah Omar’s group) that need to be co-opted. In April, President Karzai affirmed that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar could officially run for the presidency next year on the condition that the group broke ties with al-Qaeda and renounced violence; but in August Mullah Omar himself stated he will not participate to electoral competition.
Finally, it is reported a limited participation of women in the election process, (Pajhwok). The main issues restraining women participation include lack of access to remote areas due to weather constraints, an insufficient number of mobile voter registration centers, and the presence of armed opposition groups discouraging residents from obtaining voter cards.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai met the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over the stalled peace process. Karzai urged Pakistan to facilitate peace talks by providing opportunities for contacts between the Taliban and the Afghan High Peace Council. Sharif assured Karzai of Pakistan’s support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, a peace process that – according to Pakistan recommendations – has to be inclusive, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. However it is uncertain whether Sharif wields sufficient influence to convince the Taliban to discuss with Afghan President Karzai. During the visit, President Karzai also requested the release of high-ranking Taliban detainees held in Pakistan who might act as interlocutors in the peace negotiations, as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (detained in Karachi in 2010).
In addition, Islamabad and Washington are weighing the option of shifting the Taliban's political office from Qatar to another country in a bid to revive the stalled reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The option came under discussion during US Secretary of State John Kerry's recent visit to Islamabad, where the two sides explored a variety of ways of breaking the deadlock in peace negotiations.
Furthermore, Afghanistan’s second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili visited India with a high level ministerial delegation on 20 August in order to discuss security related issues as the NATO troop withdrawal draw near. The meeting was mainly focused on enhanced military cooperation. Afghan army and police officers are trained in Indian academies and India is planning to supply Afghanistan with vehicles and helicopters.
President Karzai has created a new team of high-profile negotiators in order to solve the stalled negotiations between Afghanistan and US. The new negotiation committee, consisting of the president’s national security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadizai and Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasul, is expected to facilitate the process toward an agreement. The new team of negotiators will discuss role, shape and legal status of US military forces and civilian trainers in post-2014 mission.
A recent increase in the activities of militants from Central Asia, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), in northern Afghanistan indicates that they intend to take advantage of the security vacuum that may ensue post-2014. The magnitude of recent insurgents attacks in northern Afghanistan shows an effort to gain a country-wide presence ahead of the drawdown of NATO forces. Central Asian militants fit into this setting as experienced and trusted allies for the Taliban who have some affinity to Tajik and Uzbek communities in the area.
Latest news, in brief:
- Ghazni, Kandahar, Wardak and Zabul: provincial governors met to discuss improvements to one of the most volatile parts of Afghanistan’s highway system, the Kabul-Kandahar highway.
- Herat province: local authorities reported that clashes between the security forces and Taliban militants on the Kandahar-Herat highway killed at least 83 people including eleven security forces and 72 militants.
- Farah province: a bomb exploded in near a vehicle carrying the provincial commander of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) Abdul Samada, killing and wounding civilian people and security personnel.
Infrastructural reconstruction and strategic projects are slowly in progress, due to lack in security.
Regionally speaking, Pakistan could be not able to contrast the Afghan Taliban offensive and it is not sure a constructive role of Islamabad as facilitator in peace talks process.
In brief, security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States will be defined and signed but it could have consequences merely on political dynamics.
In general, the security situation in Afghanistan is worsening because of the Nato withdrawal. It is assessed that in a short-term violence, criminality and insurgents activity will increase further.