Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov meets with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Doha on March 15, 2017. (Photo: Turkmenistan State News Agency)
The president of Turkmenistan embarked on a two-day trip to Qatar this week in the hope of drumming up vital investment, although he does not seem to have come back any with any visible results.
Aside from meeting with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and attending a banquet of honor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov spent the day in Doha on March 15 holding talks with purse-string holders, like the chief executive of the Qatar Investment Authority. But the only firm outcome of the visit came with the signing of a spate of memoranda of understanding on cooperation in areas like energy, aviation, education and wildlife conservation.
Hopeful talk on energy was naturally at the forefront of Berdymukhamedov’s thoughts.
“Qatari companies have been invited to participate in the building of gas processing plants, and petrochemical and gas chemical plants in Turkmenistan, and to develop [energy] projects on the Turkmen shelf of the Caspian Sea,” the state news agency report on the visit stated.
Another would-be opportunity touted by Berdymukhamedov was for Qatar to sink money into the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline (TAPI), which will be indispensable if Turkmenistan is ever to loosen China’s near-monopoly grip on its energy exports.
Turkmenistan has looked at fellow gas-rich nation Qatar’s recent extravagant forays into foreign investments — which include Qatar Investment Authority’s recent joint purchase of a big chunk of Russian oil giant Rosneft — and must be hoping to get in on the act.
This plan has flaws that will be obvious to seasoned Turkmenistan watchers.
Middle Eastern royalty are not an uncommon sight in Central Asia, which is a favored destination for lovers of falconry.
So there was nothing too unusual on September 28, when Forbes.kz reported that the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, had flown into Kazakhstan on a private visit for a hunt with his beloved bustards.
The emir is a regular visitor to Kazakhstan and reportedly favors hunting in the deserts near Lake Balkhash, site of a falconry facility. His latest visit was due to last two weeks, but for an unfortunate incident at Almaty airport.
As journalist Denis Krivosheev revealed on his Facebook account, the emir’s favorite falcon, Ali, died in the customs warehouse from “overexposure.” A day later, yet another falcon perished.
Krivosheev wrote that 12 rare saker falcons had been brought into Almaty for further transportation to the southern city of Taraz. Officials with the prosecutor’s office, however, insisted the birds not be released pending inspection as there have been cases of old falcons being brought into Kazakhstan and switched for younger ones, which would then be exported, depriving the country of healthier specimens. Last year, the inspection routine was performed discreetly and lasted no more than six hours, Krivosheev reported.
“They fed them the first time on Monday [September 26], but the birds already began falling ill,” he wrote. “There were no obvious reasons for holding them, but still the falcons stayed in the same place.”
Each falcon can, by some estimates, cost anything between $100,000 and $150,000, so it may not be surprising that the emir is, according to Krivosheev, mulling writing a formal note of protest.
Qatar has brokered the release of four Tajikistani border guards who had been held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan since December.
The news came from the Qatari foreign ministry on June 14, but thus far the border guards haven't appeared in Tajikistan, nor has the Tajikistan government commented.
“Under the directives of HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Qatari mediation succeeded in the release of four soldiers from Tajikstan who were captured by Taliban in December on the Northern borders of Afghanistan,” the Qatari statement said. “Qatar is using all its resources and diplomacy to save lives."
The four guards were kidnapped while gathering firewood on the border with Afghanistan; their commanding officer was later sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for ordering the men to gather the firewood.
Within days after the kidnapping the Tajikistan government said that they knew where the four were being held and that they would be released imminently, but since then little information has come out.
The intriguing element of the reported release is the Qatari angle. It's not known what Qatar did to secure the guards' release, but the Taliban regularly kidnap foreigners for exorbitant ransoms.