Ashgabat, 10 June 2013 (nCa) — Garlyk is just a small industrial town, wedged tightly near the border of Turkmenistan with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. It was opened formally in a high profile string of colourful ceremonies on 5 June 2013.
Why is this town so important that four foreign presidents – Lukashenko of Belarus, Yanukovych of Ukraine, Karzai of Afghanistan and Rahmon of Tajikistan – have visited it already?
More than just a town, Garlyk is a test lab where Turkmenistan is experimenting with several daring and futuristic models to redefine its economy and freshly weave its long-term social fabric. Garlyk is a clean slate on which to write the brand new national narrative:
Preparing for the demise of hydrocarbon resources
The first thing anyone getting acquainted with Garlyk notices is that it is immensely rich in non-hydrocarbon mineral resources.
Potassium, sulfur, zinc, lead, gypsum, lime, ceramic clay, strontium, bromine and several other minerals are found in the areas around Garlyk.
A cement factory with annual capacity of one million tons has started working already. The Potassium mining and processing complex, being built in collaboration with Belarus will start producing 1.4 million tons of potassium-based fertilizers annually within the next couple of years.
Plans are in hand to mine and process sulfur and strontium.
Garlyk is the biggest non-hydrocarbon industrial town and it will expand when more processing facilities come on line in a phased development plan.
It is apt to describe here as to how Turkmenistan interprets the ‘preparation for the demise of hydrocarbon resources?’
Conversation with some high officials suggests that in order to prepare for the demise of the hydrocarbon resources, Turkmenistan would like to achieve the following objectives in as short a timeframe as possible:
- Creation of alternate sources of employment and wealth so that the standard of living attainable at the peak exploitation of hydrocarbon resources can be maintained when such resources decline or expire.
- Creation of sufficient and continuously growing number of job opportunities to make sure that the future generations inherit a system that guarantees their prosperity and happiness.
- Raising the family income from all the natural and other resources so that each individual can have adequate spare time to pursue artistic and creative inclinations.
- Utmost use of hi tech and innovation to spread out the downstream and value-added production so that maximum benefit can be gained from the minimum exhaustion of the natural resources, thus ensuring the longest durability for such non-renewable resources.
- Strengthening the sense of nationhood and national cohesion through equitable spread of wealth and prosperity in the entire territory of Turkmenistan.
Garlyk is a laboratory for tinkering with various models to achieve these objectives, all of them based on the idea that the country needs to be ready for the day when the hydrocarbon resources will start declining.
The future plans for Garlyk include a meat and dairy complex, a tannery, and other production facilities, none of them dependent on the hydrocarbon resources except as fuel. The prosperity in Garlyk would be prosperity free of oil and gas wealth.
Relieving pressure on Ashgabat
Garlyk is also an experiment in decreasing the pressure on Ashgabat.
Ashgabat, being the capital, has naturally a wider range of amenities and comforts and job opportunities. The people, mostly the educated young, would like to benefit from what Ashgabat has to offer. This creates a tremendous pressure on the stretched resources of the capital.
Garlyk is an experiment in diverting this economic pull back to the regions.
The first phase of Garlyk that was inaugurated on 5 June 2013 has some 32 different kinds of facilities and objects.
A close look at the nature of these facilities suggests that they are designed to attract the young families who still have no children, and also the mid-level civil servants who have school going children.
The standard of the kindergarten in Garlyk is at par, probably better, than some newly opened kindergartens in Ashgabat. The two schools, with combined capacity for about 700 students, are also as well equipped as the best schools in Ashgabat.
The healthcare centre, though small, is qualitatively as good as some of the best hospitals in Ashgabat.
The roads are wide, the sidewalks broad and lined with trees, plants and flower shrubs. There are open air theater and cinema, cultural centre and gym, all offering a wide range of possibilities for entertainment and quality leisure time for young couples, families and children.
What kind of people does Turkmenistan hope to attract to Garlyk? What would be the profile of a typical family living in Garlyk?
The cement factory, the potassium mining and processing complex and other industrial facilities planned for Garlyk require large number of educated and young people in production, maintenance and service sectors. Some of them would be the people returning from higher education abroad.
These are also the kind of people who like to pursue career opportunities in Ashgabat.
If Garlyk can offer the same standard of living and lifestyle as Ashgabat but better pay packet, they would happily go there. This is what the government also wants.
Proximity to export markets
Garlyk, after all, is an industrial town and it would need to access export markets for its cement, potassium fertilizers and other mineral-based products.
Construction work on TAT Rail (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway line) started the same day that Garlyk was opened. When completed, TAT Rail would connect Garlyk with Afghanistan, Tajikistan and onward to China. The distance is so short that a freight moving from Garlyk to the border of China would take only as much time as a goods train from Garlyk to Ashgabat.
With shorter distance to the market, it would be possible to offer the industrial products of Turkmenistan at competitive rates to the buyers in the immediate and second-tier neighbouring countries.
With the success of Garlyk, such industrial towns are likely to come up in other regions of Turkmenistan, bringing prosperity to the local populations and creating foreign exchange earning dynamos.
Patriotism and security
Garlyk is also a lab for experimenting with the changing concepts of security and patriotism.
With the onslaught of globalization and the dynamic, rather mercurial nature of opportunities, the traditional sense of patriotism may not remain in vogue for long.
In the contemporary world, patriotism pales in comparison when put side by side with craving for economic betterment, the urge for ever increasing amenities and comforts, and the longing for the best in everything.
It is not the patriotism is disappearing; it is just acquiring a new face, a new character, a more versatile skin texture.
The government of Turkmenistan seems aware of the implications of whatever is happening in several parts of the world and it could possibly be experimenting in Garlyk to try to satisfy the new demands of patriotism.
This is also related to security.
Security is an indivisible concept and one kind of security cannot be separated from any other kind of security. When it boils down to the level of the individual, the security means ample opportunities for economic well being, security of life and property and freedom to pursue creative activities. Security at the individual level also means quality education for the children, adequate healthcare, and peace of mind on reaching the age of retirement.
The present and future development of Garlyk seems to cater for all of these needs, and in turn we may see this new face of patriotism shining happily in Garlyk.
Garlyk is, above all, an experiment. We hope that the government will exercise the flexibility to readjust its plans in the light of lessons learned on day to day basis. If done properly, Garlyk can be the model for the rest of Turkmenistan.