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Central Asia

The TAPI Pipeline: The Politics of Energy Balancing

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There is a new energy rush among many Greater Caspian states, one that continues to focus on breaking free of the heavy Russian influence while also diversifying their supply chains.

However, in the continual game of energy politics, many geopolitical and geostrategic foes have been born. One such nation, Turkmenistan, is spearheading an energy initiative that will both diversify and expand its customer base while at the same time release itself from Russian authority.

In addition to being a landlocked country and a former Soviet Republic, the nation is also the richest Caspian state in natural gas and untapped energy resources. Yet the nation has also struggled throughout the past in diversifying its export transportations. This issue stems back into the 1980s and 90s when Russia attempted to exert its influence throughout Central Asia by occupying Afghanistan. During this time Russian gas giant Gazprom refused to sign an energy deal with Unocal – a previous petroleum explorer and marketer based in California – over a Trans-Afghanistan pipeline, due to U.S. support for the mujahideen, a move it believed was aimed at undermining Russian influence in the region. Moreover, Gazprom’s chief executive at the time, Rem Vyakhirev, declared that Russia would not allow Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan to export its oil and gas through non-Russian pipelines. This was aimed as a move that would eradicate any form of Russian influence or energy developments throughout Central Asia in the near or far future.

While projects like the aforementioned Trans-Afghan pipeline failed to develop and efforts to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline are continually stalled due to political contestations, on December 13, 2015, a deal outlining the details to build the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India (TAPI) pipeline was signed. This ratification hopes to allow the destination countries to break free of those political and economic chains that have restricted Turkmen gas from diversifying its transport routes and becoming independent of Russian influence. Nevertheless, this may come with a price of its own.

The timeline to begin operations is set for the year 2019 and will hold a cost of over $10 billion USD, from which Turkmenistan is the leading sponsor. The TAPI pipeline will have the ability to transport an estimated 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year. But with all the hype and allure of generating energy independence, diversifying exports, and expanding each destination country’s energy infrastructure, there has also been a lack of foreign investments as well as various geopolitical ramifications tied to these attempts at building another pipeline.

The TAPI pipeline is alive today due to Turkmengaz’s 85 percent stake in the project—leaving the remaining 15 percent stakes split equally among the destination countries. Turkmengaz is the national gas company of Turkmenistan and the largest gas company in Central Asia. Its lead investment depicts Turkmenistan’s prioritization to generate energy diversification and independence, which the nation believes are necessary to keep pace with its domestic productions that are slowly surpassing its current export capacities. Before 2011, Russia was Turkmenistan’s main market for imports of natural gas. However since 2011, China has become the recipient of the bulk of Turkmen natural gas exports. This was made possible by the willingness of China to create the necessary environment. Since these expansions, two-thirds (45 bcm) of natural gas has been transported annually to China, with the rest being split between Iran (9 bcm), Russia (9 bcm), and Kazakhstan (0.5 bcm).

This new China pivot presents two geopolitical problems. First, this shift away from Russia may aggravate regional tensions as Moscow may observe this move as one that once again attempts to undermine its influence across the Greater Caspian and Central Asian regions. Second, even if the TAPI pipeline allows the sponsor nations to escape the grip of one of the largest Caspian powers—Russia—they may find themselves shackled to the dominance of Beijing, a move that would only replace one great power with another. China is already closing its economic grip on the project, seeking to assist in financing Pakistan’s 5 percent stake through its $46 billion USD investment project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Furthermore, Afghanistan, which already has limited financial resources and a security situation that presents multiple dilemmas, must raise 3 percent of its own financing before the Asian Development Bank will provide the rest.

Undoubtedly, the single most important consideration during the development and construction phase will be to stabilize the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, territorial conflicts and boundary disputes stemming from Pakistan and India over Kashmir must be quelled in order to attract more outside investors and improve the overall security situation. Russia and Iran may observe the TAPI pipeline as a hindrance to their own economies and may surreptitiously exacerbate the security issues stemming heavily from Afghanistan and Pakistan. This may lead the two nations to indirectly economically and politically suppress the effort to build what some are calling “The New Silk Road”, perhaps rendering the TAPI pipeline nothing but a pipe dream.

Despite the various historical tensions, conflicts, and uncertain security equation throughout the destination countries, the success of the TAPI pipeline may be more possible than it seems. This is because Turkmenistan’s president Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov, has actively pushed each country’s leader to move the project forward, offering them a direct, unobstructed investment in another pipeline project originating at the world’s second-largest natural gas field—the Galkynysh natural gas field in southern Turkmenistan. It would be against any of the destination countries’ best economic interests to muddy the waters of an opportunity this large. Moreover, the political will of each nation and the economic prospects for the region could be balanced against the long and still powerful grip of Russian energy controls. In short, the TAPI pipeline is not just a quick-fix solution to energy independence. Rather, it is a calculated, coherent, and long-term energy focused strategic vision for the Greater Caspian state of Turkmenistan and the Central Asian states of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

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Central Asia

Kazakh court case tests Chinese power

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Kazakh court is set to put to the test China’s ability to impose its will and strongarm Muslim nations into remaining silent about its brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

The court will hear an appeal by a former worker in one of Xinjiang’s multiple re-education camps against the rejection of her request for asylum. The appeal illustrates the political quagmire faced by Central Asian nations and Turkey given their ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties to China’s estimated 11 million Turkic Muslims that include 1.5 million people of Kazakh descent.

It also highlights China’s risky bet on being able to leverage its economic power to ensure the Muslim world’s silence about what amounts to the most concerted effort in recent history to reshape Muslim religious practice.

Up to one million Turkic Muslims have, according to the United Nations, been detained in a network of re-education camps in which they are being forced to accept the superiority of Chinese Communist Party beliefs and the leadership of President Xi Jinping above the precepts of Islam.

Beyond the camps, Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, a strategic minerals-rich province bordering on eight Central and South Asian nations that China has turned into a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state, are forced to refrain from religious practice and custom in public.

After denying the existing of the camps for the longest period of time, China last month felt obliged to acknowledge them and give them legal cover.

Authorities in Xinjiang amended their anti-extremism regulations “to allow local governments to set up institutions to provide people affected by extremist thoughts with vocational skills training and psychological counselling.” China asserts that the crackdown is intended to counter extremism, separatism and terrorism.

China’s acknowledgement was designed to counter the UN report, threats of US sanctions against officials and companies involved in the Xinjiang crackdown, and revelations by 41-year-old Sayragul Sauytbay, a Chinese national of Kazakh descent.

Ms. Sauytbay testified in an open Kazakh court that she had been employed in a Chinese re-education camp for Kazakhs only that had 2,500 inmates. She said she was aware of two more such camps reserved for Kazakhs.

Ms. Sauytbay was standing trial for entering Kazakhstan illegally after having been detained at China’s request.

She told the court that she had escaped to Kazakhstan after being advised by Chinese authorities that she would never be allowed to join her family because of her knowledge of the camps. Ms. Sauytbay was given a six-month suspended sentence and released from prison to join her recently naturalized husband and children.

Since then, Ms. Sauytbay’s application for asylum has been rejected and she has until the end of October to leave Kazakhstan. She hopes that an appeal court will reverse the rejection.

Ms. Sauytbay’s case puts the Kazakh government between a rock and a hard place and is but one of a string of recent cracks in the Muslim wall of silence.

Kazakh authorities have to balance a desire to kowtow to Chinese demands with a growing anti-Chinese sentiment that demands that the government stand up for its nationals as well as Chinese nationals of Kazakh descent.

Ms. Sauytbay’s revelations that ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted in the Chinese crackdown sparked angry denunciations in Kazakhstan’s parliament.

“There should be talks taking place with the Chinese delegates. Every delegation that goes there should be bringing this topic up… The key issue is that of the human rights of ethnic Kazakhs in any country of the world being respected,” said Kunaysh Sultanov, a member of parliament and former deputy prime minister and ambassador to China.

In a further crack, Malaysia this week released 11 Uyghurs who were detained after having escaped detention in Thailand.

The Uyghurs were allowed to leave the country for Turkey. The move, coming in the wake of a decision by Germany and Sweden to suspend deportations of Uyghurs to China, puts on the spot countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, where Uyghurs risk extradition.

Malaysia’s release of the Uyghurs occurred days before Anwar Ibrahim took the first hurdle in becoming the country’s next prime minister by this weekend winning a parliamentary by election.

Mr. Ibrahim last month became the Muslim world’s most prominent politician to speak out about the crackdown in Xinjiang.

Earlier, Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) party and head of its Policy and Strategy Bureau, cautioned that “that geographical proximity cannot be taken advantage by China to ride roughshod over everything that Malaysia holds dear, such as Islam, democracy, freedom of worship and deep respect for every country’s sovereignty… On its mistreatment of Muslims in Xinjiang almost en masse, Malaysia must speak up, and defend the most basic human rights of all.”

Pakistan’s Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony minister, Noorul Haq Qadri, was forced to raise the issue of Turkic Muslims with Chinese ambassador Yao Xing under pressure from Pakistanis whose spouses and relatives had been detained in the Xinjiang crackdown.

Ms. Sauytbay’s appeal for asylum is likely to refocus public opinion in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations on the plight of their Turkic brethren.

She will not be deported, we will not allow it,” said Ms. Sauytbay’s lawyer, Abzal Kuspanov.

Mr. Kuspanov’s defense of Ms. Sauytbay is about far more than the fate of a former Chinese re-education camp employee. It will serve as a barometer of China’s ability to impose its will. If China succeeds, it will raise the question at what price. The answer to that is likely to only become apparent over time.

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Central Asia

Why the upcoming Congress of the Leaders of World is so vital for peace and prosperity

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

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Religion has been, and remains, an immense spiritual force for good in our world. The shared values which underpin all world’s major faiths have positively moulded how we treat each other. Religious beliefs give direction, comfort and hope to billions of people.

Religious communities appear to have enormous potential for addressing today’s social problems. Faith groups across the globe are prominent in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and caring for the vulnerable.  Our world would be poorer without the impact of religion on our lives.

Throughout history, religion has also been exploited to sow divisions. Instead of bringing people together and encouraging them to behaving decently toward each other, it has been abused to fuel suspicions and hatred, spread confusion about the true essence of religion. We are facing the problem of ignoring what religions have in common and exaggerating and distorting the difference between, and at times within, faiths.

The abuse of religion continues and is undermining hopes for peace and progress. In recent years, many thousands have died and millions more had to flee their homes in conflicts, in which religion has been used to justify discrimination and violence. Countering these dangerous distortions is one of the challenges that religious leaders should address.

There is no single answer. Yet at the heart of the solution is dialogue between religions to foster understanding and respect. This is an overarching aim of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions which is to be held for the sixth time in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana this month (October.)

The Congress was initiated by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev amid the growing religious tensions and extremism following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States. He believed it was critical that the opportunity be provided for religious leaders to work together to prevent religion being used to divide us.

His vision has struck a chord across the world. The Congress, which takes place every three years since 2003 has engaged prominent religious leaders and politicians from different countries around most pressing issues. By 2015, the number of delegations attending had increased from 23 to 80. High-profile attendees included then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, King Abdullah of Jordan and President of Finland Sauli Niinistö. Discussions centred on the role of religion in promoting development and measures to reduce appeal of violent extremism among young people.

The Sixth Congress, which takes place on October 10-11, will build on this efforts. Its focus is on how religious leaders can work together to play their full part in creating a secure world and prevent faith being abused to set people against each other.

Located at a crossroads of different civilizations, Kazakhstan has placed greater importance on promoting religious harmony and mutual respect. Our country’s history and geography have combined to create a society in which people of many different backgrounds and faiths live within single boundaries. Religious freedom has become a precious asset of our nation, which allows diverse beliefs to peacefully coexist and helps us to negotiate any concerns in a constructive spirit.

Such a mixture could have been, as it has been the case in other countries, a worrying source of tension and conflict. Despite negative expectations such diversity has been turned into a strength in our society where citizens are equally respected and are able to make their full contribution to the common welfare.

As a matter of fact, while Kazakhstan’s population may be largely Muslim, followers of all traditional faiths live in harmony with each other, are free to worship and enjoy equal rights guaranteed by the constitution. It is a source not only of national pride but has also been an indispensable platform for our stability and prosperity at home and growing influence abroad.

In this turbulent world, dialogue and mutual respect has never been more important. Nor has it been more critical to provide the forum where religious and political leaders can work together to prevent any distortion of faith for violent ends. The upcoming Congress is so vital for peace and prosperity.

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Central Asia

Reforms Can Accelerate Economic Diversification in Kazakhstan

MD Staff

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Kazakhstan’s future growth depends on reforms that provide a level playing field for the private sector and support economic diversification, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) Country Diagnostic Study launched today.

The study, Kazakhstan: Accelerating Economic Diversification, identifies the most binding constraints to growth and provides in-depth analysis of structural reforms that will bring the country to its growth potential. The report finds that consistent and successful reform efforts can add an average of 1.2 percentage points per year to Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product.

“Kazakhstan needs to accelerate structural reforms to support the country’s economic diversification,” said ADB Country Director for Kazakhstan Mr. Giovanni Capannelli. “These reforms include improving the country’s business climate, enhancing competitiveness, and increasing private sector participation in the economy.”

Kazakhstan’s economy has transformed since its independence in 1991, mainly due to a surge in oil and gas exports. While the country achieved middle-income status in 2006, the downturn of oil and other commodity prices in 2014 exposed the country’s vulnerability to external shocks and constrained government revenues.

Future growth will depend on identifying sectors in which Kazakhstan has a strong growth potential, according to the study. These include food processing, basic metals, and chemicals. In agriculture, redirecting subsidies toward investment in infrastructure, improving access to finance, and promoting innovation can substantially boost productivity. Greater investment in infrastructure is essential to provide a link to unexploited markets, decrease transport costs, and support the production of tradable goods. Transit trade has a large growth potential, while increasing the efficiency of transport infrastructure can generate additional growth from other tradable sectors such as manufacturing, the report said.

ADB began supporting Kazakhstan in 1994 and has since approved over $5 billion in sovereign loans, nonsovereign loans, and guarantees. ADB operations in Kazakhstan are helping open up transport routes, foster private enterprise, address inequalities, promote inclusive growth, and deliver knowledge products and services. ADB also contributes to Kazakhstan’s participation in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program.

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