After stalling for months on a price agreement over Turkmenistan’s demand for higher-costing gas to supply the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, India unexpectedly undercut Pakistan by striking a bilateral deal directly with Turkmenistan for an undisclosed amount, Pakistan’s media reported. Islamabad’s efforts to insist on a uniform gas price broke down after India's deal, so Islamabad told Ashgabat that it would match the lowest gas price, Pakistan’s daily The News reported, citing an unnamed official close to the negotiations. Pakistan then announced on August 14 that Turkmenistan had agreed to provide 30 billion cubic meters via TAPI, The Nation of Pakistan reported.
India had originally offered a price of $460 per thousand cubic meters (tcm), and had a counteroffer from Turkmenistan of $505-$525/tcm, energy specialist Dr. Robert Cutler reported for Asia Times. India already imports liquefied natural gas from Qatar and elsewhere and saw no reason to pay more for Turkmen gas. The final price currently negotiated has not been disclosed, and could change due to various complications.
Turkmenistan had all along sought bilateral price deals, said The News, so it was evidently pleased with the outcome. While Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan had all preferred uniform gas pricing, Pakistan was particularly insistent, concerned that differing gas prices would create political problems. Further talks originally scheduled to take place between Pakistan and Turkmenistan on August 15-16 were postponed due to a trip by Dr. Asim Hussain, Pakistan's federal minister of petroleum and natural resources to Poland, said The News. Poland currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union.
A delegation from the Afghani Ministry of Mines then met with officials of Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources on August 15 to discuss TAPI’s construction, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reported. While details were not provided, the economic and technical issues discussed may have been possible to move forward because of the separate deals announced with India and Pakistan. Some regional media reported the parties as already having “agreed,” but the Russian text of the official announcement used the imperfect form of the verb meaning “negotiated.”
The 1,640-kilometer TAPI project is being financed by the Asian Development Bank. While the pricing issue may be temporarily resolved, another matter that could delay progress is the sulfur content in Turkmenistan's gas. India wants it to be reduced to no more than 0.25 percent. Pakistan has not sided with India on the sulfur issue but was said to be waiting to make its own deal with Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan now says it will need to build a de-sulfurization plant which would then increase the price, says The News.
Regardless of the not-quite-final price and obvious looming security issues when the pipeline is constructed, Ashgabat appears to be moving determinedly forward with TAPI, unlike Nabucco. Last month, Ashgabat also successfully launched its gas shipping facility in Turkmenbashi with financing from the Malaysian company Petronas. News that Germany’s energy giant RWE has financial problems could further delay Nabucco, says Allessandro Torello on her blog in the Wall Street Journal. RWE suffered losses and a management shake-up last quarter with the CEO’s departure; RWE was said to fall victim to Germany’s announcement that it would end its nuclear energy programs. While gas is expected to replace nuclear power, RWE may have fewer resources to make the investment in Nabucco. Yet RWE's outgoing CEO Jürgen Grossmann said Nabucco is still on track, although financing and gas supplies have to be secured. The European Union is still hoping to convince both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to cooperate and help fill the pipeline.
Forty days has passed since the tragic explosion on July 7 in an arms depot in Abadan, about 18 miles outside of Ashgabat. Nothing more is known about the circumstances of the blast or the total number of casualties. Although there is no tradition of a 40-day memorial in Islam, the Russian Orthodox Church marks the passage, and Turkmen families have also organized prayers and special meals, the oppositional website gundogar.org reports.
The independent emigre website Chronicles of Turkmenistan reports that 40 people have been tried for the explosion, including the head of the army unit where the ammunition depot was located. The closed trial, where seven of those held responsible have been reportedly given sentences of 20-25 years, and the rest 10 years, was not reported by the state media.
There is still no confirmation of the number of those who have died or been injured, since the official toll of 15 killed (13 civilians and 2 soldiers) was announced --a figure independent reporters have challenged.
This month, 8 more people reportedly died from exploding shrapnel. Veteran Russian correspondent Arkady Dubnov writes in Moscow News that the precise figure of 1,382 published last month by chrono-tm.org reportedly comes from the official government commission convened to investigate the explosion. Yet the Turkmen leadership has classified the information and refuses to divulge the true number of deaths.
Since the blocking of the Internet and cell phones following the Abadan explosion, a number of citizen journalists have been searched or summoned by police and threatened. In the Media Sustainability Index survey released this month, IREX, the International Research and Exchanges Board, ranked Turkmenistan at 0.35 on a scale of 0-4 for its poor media environment, the worst in Central Asia. Now President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is threatening to make it even worse by taking up an old cause of his predecessor, past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. Claiming that satellite dishes are an “eyesore” on city buildings. The president has ordered most of them removed, to be replaced with cable television under greater state control. Likely the relatively more free Russian television the satellite dishes deliver is the issue, not the view. Fortunately, as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, most people ignored Niyazov’s demand, and will likely continue to keep their dishes out despite Berdymukhamedov’s orders.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick compiles the Turkmenistan weekly roundup for EurasiaNet. She is also editor of EurasiaNet's Sifting the Karakum blog. To subscribe to the weekly email with a digest of international and regional press, write firstname.lastname@example.org