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Karzai Afghan "President for Life?" Bad for Democracy, Good for Pipelines

According to a document drawn up by Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Service, BND) Afghan president Hamid Karzai intends to stay in power when his second and constitutionally final term ends in 2014.

Bad news for Afghan democracy, potentially excellent news for international energy companies thirsting to build the proposed $7.6 billion, 1,040 mile-long Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, on the drawing boards for nearly two decades.

Karzai reportedly wants to emulate the political maneuverings of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who, stymied by the Russian Federation’s constitution from holding the office of presidency for a third consecutive term, simply handed the Presidency to Dmitri Medvedev in 2008 and contented himself with the office of Prime Minister. Now Putin is seeking a return to the Russian Federation Presidency in the March 2012 elections.

Karzai’s political shenanigans to retain power beyond his constitutional mandates are spelled out in the BND document, ironically issued on the same day that an international summit in Bonn, chaired by Karzai, seeks to delineate Afghanistan’s future after NATO forces depart the nation in 2014.

And Afghanistan’s Western allies will pick up the tab. According to pronouncements from Bonn, Karzai’s administration expects U.S. aid to flow without interruption for another six years following the U.S. departure in 2014.

The gift that keeps on giving, if Washington accedes to Karzai’s request, then the U.S.-trained Afghan army alone will require $5-7 billion annually in U.S. assistance to maintain a 350,000-man army.

More, you say? A minor problem is Pakistan is boycotting the Bonn conference to protest the recent NATO raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

But no matter.

In Bonn Karzai blithely announced that Afghanistan would need roughly $10 billion annually after the ISAF withdrawal from 2015 through 2020, or a little less than half the country's annual gross national product. As a yardstick, in 2011 thus far Afghanistan has received $15.7 billion, 90 percent of its public spending, from its U.S. and NATO patrons.

But what’s a few billion dollars among friends?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gravely intoned in Bonn that "the entire region has a stake in Afghanistan's future and much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability."

But, the good news is that Karzai’s recurrent grasp on power sustains one of the Western energy community’s most cherished and longstanding projects, the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (initially “TAP,” now “TAPI,” with the inclusion of Pakistan and India), designed to bring Turkmenistan’s gas to the burgeoning southern Asian markets of Pakistan and India. TAPI was under development even before the Taliban captured Kabul, as in 1995 Turkmenistan and Pakistan initialed a memorandum of understanding. TAPI, with a carrying capacity of 33 bcm of Turkmen natural gas a year, was projected to run from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field across Afghanistan and Pakistan and terminate at the northwestern Indian town of Fazilka.

Despite Karzai’s fervent support for the project, security for TAPI’s route through Afghanistan remains an “impediment” to the project’s realization.
 
But no matter, if Karzai is “reelected.”

While Karzai is due to leave office in 2014, according to the BND report, he is believed to be considering holding a loya jirga, or grand council, to change the Afghan constitution and allow him to remain in power.

Yesterday Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Bonn, "President Karzai has said himself that he will be going in 2014, let us take him at his word," while U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said she looked forward to "inclusive, fair and credible presidential elections and a peaceful and democratic transfer of power in 2014."

Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries, where two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
 
But with a president for life supporting a $7.6 billion pipeline, what’s a little electoral graft amongst friends?

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com




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