Despite myriad setbacks and any number of reasons for pessimism, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline is still pushing on. Indeed, if a recent flurry of reports is any measure, TAPI appears to be the one notable multilateral project threading Central and South Asia that may have an outside chance of success, however slim that chance may remain.
A pair of surveying projects have taken center stage in terms of updates on the pipeline, which is planned to carry over 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas to consumers in Pakistan and India. As The Diplomat’s Catherine Putz noted in February, Afghanistan had finalized an engineering design for its leg of the $10 billion project. Further, Pakistani Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, per Pakistan’s Business Recorder, announced last month that Islamabad was formally launching surveying work in the country. India’s Economic Times also added that “detailed engineering” has begun on the “peace pipeline” — which, in addition to billions of cubic meters of gas, “is expected to bring peace and stability in the region.” Afghanistan’s president, according to Trend, even noted the progress on the pipeline as a sign of “close cooperation” between Kabul and Ashgabat.
The recent round of updates is, of course, music to Ashgabat’s ears, with the Turkmen government still dealing with the fallout from the cancellation of the Line D pipeline to China. After all, however unlikely TAPI’s final completion may be, it’s far greater than the chance Turkmenistan sees of completing any kind of Trans-Caspian pipeline in the foreseeable future. The pipeline to India now exists as Turkmenistan’s last, best hope to re-ignite its gas exports.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But where photo-ops and mutual back-slapping surrounding TAPI updates have become the norm, there’s a reason most prognosticators are still wary about ever seeing TAPI come to fruition. For instance, buried beneath the announcements of new surveys and engineering projects, regional officials have begun pushing back the pipeline’s presumed completion date. Where Pakistani officials recently said the pipeline would be finished by 2019, Pakistan’s The Newsreported that, “on account of delay in achieving financial closure,” 2020 was now the projected end-date for the pipeline. Even that might still be too optimistic.
All of this, of course, ignores the piling security threats, most especially in Afghanistan, to say nothing of India-Pakistan coordination concerns. So while it’s welcome news to TAPI’s boosters that the pipeline has seen recent positive developments, the moves seem more like progress for progress’ sake, rather than long-awaited, substantive developments.
“Afghanistan believes in a policy of connectivity, not separation,” Ashraf Ghani, the country’s president, told the gathered dignitaries. “South Asia is going to connect with Central Asia through Afghanistan, after a century of separation.”
Like a long straw sucking at the energy riches in Central Asia, the 1,127-mile-long pipe will connect the state of Punjab in northern India with the Galkynysh gas field in the desert in eastern Turkmenistan.
Plans call for an accompanying fiber-optic cable and eventually a railroad along part of the route, from Turkmenistan to Pakistan.
Afghanistan, which is promoting its location for trade as “the roundabout of Asia,” will benefit from construction jobs that could offer an alternative to war for young men, and by withdrawing some of the gas as cheap fuel for power stations and heating.
Once energy starts to flow, the country also expects about $400 million a year in transit fees, partly offsetting some of the international aid that now props up the government.
Like so many other energy infrastructure works in the region, the project is deeply entwined with politics.
In the jostling for influence and dominance in Central Asia a century ago, the great powers mapped caravan routes and mountain passes in a contest known as the Great Game. In its modern variant, they compete with pipelines. The United States has supported pipelines to bypass Russia and alleviate former Soviet states’ economic dependence on it. And bringing Central Asian energy to market eases global dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
The United States is backing the TAPI line as an alternative to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India, or IPI, another “peace pipeline” that would tap Iran’s large South Pars gas field.
The pipeline is a major energy project: It will carry 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year, roughly the amount the Netherlands consumes in that time.
It will pass through five southern Afghan provinces — Herat, Farah, Nimruz, Helmand and Kandahar — that have been Taliban strongholds, and security had been a major concern. However, both the Taliban and Pakistan, a country believed to hold sway over the insurgent group, have pledged support.
“Our policy is clear,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement that coincided with Friday’s ceremony. “We are not against the TAPI project but are supporting it, and we are ready to provide security for the project when it is needed.”
An Isle of Man-based holding company will oversee the project with a Turkmen state company, Turkmengaz, reportedly the majority shareholder. In Turkmenistan, officials have said they received loans from Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Development Bank.
Oil companies first proposed the pipeline in 1995 as a means to bring landlocked Central Asian energy to market, but it dropped off their agenda after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan the following year.
The plan was revived after the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2020.Continue reading the main story