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.
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 .
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.
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.