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TAPI project
Several countries across the world are making tremendous efforts to overcome their energy shortage. In the South Asian region, Pakistan and India are the two major energy consumers and they are getting increasingly dependent on imported oil and natural gas.

The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, which is a major project being pursued, if successfully implemented could be the beginning of a new era of cooperation and interconnectedness at the regional level. TAPI’s route may serve as a stabilizing corridor, linking neighbors together in economic growth and prosperity. The road ahead is long for this project, but the benefits could be tremendous.

TAPI project was originally conceived in late 90s but now it is resulting in a bitter tussle between US, Russia and China over energy resource and consequently political supremacy over the Central and South Asian region.

The TAPI pipeline has the potential to export up to 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas per annum from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India over a period of 30 years. It will enable landlocked Turkmenistan, which has the world’s fourth largest proven gas reserves, to expand its gas export market to the southeast. The pipeline is expected to carry 90 million metric standard cubic metres of gas daily, of which India and Pakistan would get 38 mmscmd each and Afghanistan’s share would be 14 mmscmd. The next meeting of the steering committee will be held in February 2015 in Islamabad.

Strategic objective  

The strategic objective of United States is to permanently close the energy resource of Turkmenistan from entering Russian dominated extremists region. As per the American initiative the pipeline will pass through Taliban heartland of Herat and Kandhar provinces in Afghanistan and then in Quetta and Multan in Pakistan and will be extended  to India  in Fazilka.

The course of flow of TAPI resources will be determined by the country that succeeds in dominating the work of execution of this project and will be later able to decide on the  extended areas linked for the gas pipeline .

The TAPI pipeline has many challenges  and opportunities  and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai recently travelled to Ashgabat for the early implementation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline so that Afghanistan can benefit by earning nearly a billion dollars   that will in turn create  12 thousand jobs in the country. Additionally this employment  will lead to the stability and normalization of political conditions and help in defeating the Taliban ideology

With global energy firms refusing to participate  in the ambitious TAPI gas pipeline, US and China have emerged as the two contenders to lead a consortium that will design, finance, construct, own and operate  the $ 10 billion gas pipeline.

But Central Asian republicans are wary of Chinese dominance over their  energy resource  which might result into political influence, particularly Turkmenistan which do not wish to become an economic  colony of China .
 
Expanding influence

After the withdrawal of ISAF troops from Afghanistan, US believes that TAPI gas pipeline  has the potential to transform the future of the entire region both South and Central Asia in terms of regional and economic connectivity.

Obama administration is also pursuing a four pronged strategy to bolster regional connectivity by linking Afghanistan  to its neighbor in Central and South Asia through road and rail links.

Obama’s Asia ‘s strategy  is to build a regional energy market facilitating trade and transport and border linkages  and connecting businesses  as these efforts  will be critical  for securing  Afghanistan  economic ties with its neighbors. Obama’s main aim is to prohibit Russia, Iran and China  from seizing energy resources  from the said region.

The implementation of TAPI this project  will entirely sideline  the Russian influence  in the Central Asian Republicans.  Both Russia and China  are fighting  for dominance  in Central Asia  but  Central Asian Republicans  are themselves  pushing them out of their region. Because of the free fall of the Russian economy, they don’t consider it worthwhile to tie their  economy  with the severely  damaged  economy  of Putin’s Moscow that may jeopardize their economic  future prospects.

As regards with  China it is currently hungry for  energy resource of Central Asia to sustain their booming economic activity. However it is expected that  China’s economy may also not be able to sustain their  present  extraordinary growth rate because of their aging population.

As another dimension  to the meeting  with President  Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan, Aghan President Ashraf Ghani sought  access to the energy-rich area around the Caspian Sea which is geographically connected to the Black Sea and thereafter  to Europe. The Central Asia and Caspian sea region are blessed with abundant oil and gas resources that  has the potential to  for growth  both in Europe and Asia. Each of the countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia face difficult political challenges and are therefore not involved in the areas included in this project.

It may be noted that  Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan use ferries  across the Caspian Sea from where they go  to Azerbaijan, Georgia and other  parts of the Black Sea  leading to European markets. It appears that Ghani is exploring this option of associating his country’s economy with Russia, China but US is specifically excludes this  vision.

Meanwhile, Russia  is pushing for alternative  Silk Route that will connect Russia  Belarus Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan .

US policy recognizes the importance of Central Asia’s energy resources and the economic possibilities they offer in world markets and in the region itself. But in case US is desirous of successful creating New Silk Route it will have to commit huge financial resources  to counter the increased Russian and Chinese presence.

Turkmen are seriously having  second  thoughts of letting its energy resource not being dominated by China  and Russia. It may be further noted that Russia had concluded pacts with China to allow its energy to the Chinese territories which is resulting into a strange nexus between them. It is feared that Russians are trying to serve their own strategic  interests  through this newly concluded  pact.

Since US and Russia  are at loggerheads  and had been  fighting  with each other in Afghanistan after the collapse of Soviet Union, the US is secretly involved in shifting its strategic priorities to the advantage of their policies .

The planned TAPI pipeline offers benefits to all four participating countries and would promote cooperation. For Turkmenistan, it would provide revenue and diversification of export routes. For Pakistan and India, it would address energy deficits. In Afghanistan, it would provide revenue for development and gas for industrial enterprises. The potential for export to other countries through the Pakistani port of Gwadar is a further advantage. TAPI is consistent with the US declared policy of linking Central and South Asia and diversifying export routes for Turkmen gas. For a number of countries, TAPI could provide business opportunities in construction and operation of the pipeline.

It may even contribute in transforming India-Pakistan relations by enhancing interdependence in the energy sector and the economic field. Due to more economic opportunities, new markets will be opened for landlocked Turkmenistan as it can extend its exports to the east where there is a remarkable demand for energy.

Concerns

However as the TAPI pipeline will pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is volatile, sensitive and unstable region, the security of the gas pipeline remains a major challenge.

Further, the threat from ISIS is also increasing which is looking to expand its presence in neighboring Afghanistan and other regional countries. Meanwhile, population linked to Hazaras, Tajiks, Kurds,Turkmens and Uzbeks are already uniting  to counter ISIS, if they plan to enter into this region. Iran and Turkmenistan vowed to jointly militarily intervene in case ISIS jihadists launch invasions into their territories. Greater emphasis  is being placed on the threat of radical Islamism  and Afghan extremists  that could de-stabilize Central Asia.

The ISIS phenomenon right from Syria  to Iraq appears  ultimately headed for a bloody clash in Turkmenistan in 2015 spring  that may endanger the implementation of this pipeline in view of the ethnic intricacies but operationlization of TAPI under US leadership will be able to give a stable and peaceful future to Afghanistan.

Many energy experts however believe that in today’s technology driven age, the pipeline can be successfully protected from possible terrorist attacks. Some Western companies have already reportedly offered technology which is capable of independently managing the pipeline per sector, which then can be disconnected from the rest of the pipeline via satellite control in case of a terrorist attack or any other such security situation.

It is no secret that TAPI has a strong backing of the US government which is actively helping all concerned countries by offering both expertise and technology. The pipeline project is a true multinational effort and, if realized, can serve as an important example of the benefits of greater regional economic connectivity. However with the TAPI project launch further postponed to 2018, the future of the successful implementation of this critical project appears bleak.