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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 25 New Delhi June 13, 2015

US Policy to Destabilise Turkmenistan and India’s Regional Interests

Saturday 13 June 2015

by Hasan Hamidullah

Destabilisation of Turkmenistan’s security is in the interests of three major players in the region—the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Even if those countries have their own goals independent of how those goals would affect India’s interests (except in the case of Pakistan), their policies, amalgamated into a unified policy-perspective, can ruin the idea of sustainable supplies of energy resources to India from the Central Asian states and additionally prevent New Delhi’s direct access to Central Asia in general.

Washington is appearing to launch a new long-term game in energy-rich Turkmenistan. The objective is to create instability there and accordingly stall the process of oil and gas flows into the European and South Asian markets so that Americans can use those for their own benefit. American experts believe that hydrocarbons are in excess in the world market and the US’ access to Turkmen gas can help Washington get its own share of the pie. And the best way they can do so, they feel, is to turn Turkmenistan into another regional front of the war on terror.

Washington has lately expanded its military cooperation with Ashgabat since Turkmenistan is now looking for allies to tackle the menace of extremism emanating from Afghanistan. And it is too naive to think that the US goals in the region are the same as those of Turkmenistan. The Turkmen President needs to secure the country’s borders and ensure internal stability while simultaneously enhancing the efficiency and loyalty of the local law enforcement forces. On the other hand the Americans, eager to guarantee for themselves a leading role in fighting terror in another country of the region, are seeking to establish contacts with personnel of the Turkmen military and security agencies ready for “direct dialogue” with Washington without seeking any approval from their government. These personnel are supposed to become cadres for another “colour revolution” like the ones seen in Egypt’s notorious Arab Spring on the one side and the Ukrainian crisis on the other.

The US policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Ukraine demonstrates that the only way to manipulate the national elites is to create a situation of manageable chaos through either external threat or internal conflict or both. This is how the Americans offer their defence cooperation: sending advisors and eventually setting up their military bases. US bases never provide security in the areas of their operation. They have no problem of coexisting with extremists as in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Turkmenistan is a significant part of the gas deal between India and Iran. Gas from the Central Asian state is to be supplied to the northern provinces of Iran in a swap deal for the Iranian gas to India through Oman. Leave aside Islamabad (which sees any link between India, Iran and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan as being inimical to its national interests), Washington too is certain to try its best to prevent the growing ties of Ashgabat with Tehran and New Delhi. As for the Saudis, they do not lose any opportunity to burn Iran’s backyard and undermine Tehran’s economy and international cooperation.

In case Turkmenistan is plunged into chaos India will have to as well forget its plans to get access to sustainable energy resources that are desperately needed for its economic growth and in the bargain face mounting threats of Islamic extremism in the region with all the negative implications to New Delhi’s own security.

It is quite evident that Ashgabat’s policy of neutrality is no longer working to its advantage. In the prevailing circumstances the only path open for Turkmenistan is to intensify its cooperation with the regional players in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and thereby win their support.