TAPI: Exploring the possibilities

Borders thronged with soldiers. War drills. Scything rhetoric and deranged shreds of unfounded accusations. This is how we can best explain the recent situation between the two big names which are supposed to build, along with two other countries, a pipeline called TAPI.

The mixture of the countries is very unique in the sense that the eristic-trio, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, are more or less at loggerheads with each other at different forums and on different issues. However, the significance of the project is tantamount for all the four countries. Whereas Turkmenistan is in search of new markets for its gas the other three countries are in dire need of an energy dose given their multiplying populations and commensurately proliferating energy demand. At present, Pakistan produces 4 bcfd of gas against demand for 6 bcfd.

Why Turkmenistan needs a market? The national exchequer takes a 31% chunk of gas imports in this country. Also, it was in the times of great USSR that the Turkmen gas pipelines were constructed. Now as Russia plans to forge new alliances and the magnitude of gas exported to former Soviet empire diminishes from 40billion cubic meters to 11bcm. The only option left for the water-melon exporting country is the Hans. However, Russia in a fit of fear of isolation has already penned down a $400bn deal with China after sanctions were slapped on it when it annexed Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. Hence, in a world filled with whimsical actors who are apt in the brusque act of changing camaraderie Turkmenistan has no option than to tap new markets. As one article points out: “TAPI represents a part of a large-scale program on diversification of the export routes of distribution of Turkmen gas”. Also, recently Russia has and Turkey has been expediting the completion of Turkish stream pipeline.

The TAPI aims to bestow 38bcm of natural gas to Pakistan and India each- and Afghanistan 14bcm. Out of a tranche of $25 billion Turkmenistan will invest $15 billion in developing the gas field whereas $10 billion will be utilized to lie down a 1,680km-long pipeline. However, this is only possible is the countries are ready to work together. I also am suspicious of the political maturity of this trio. That is to say we cannot expect them to be China and USA- both see each other as threat to their global influence yet bonded by the thread of biggest trade partner. On the other hand Pakistan, India and Afghanistan are embroiled in regional conflicts each manifesting intransigence by peddling cold comments or refusing to attend meetings [read: SAARC conference]. These countries are symptomatic of a mindset that is bereft of the comprehension that economic ties/priorities should be placed before national interests.

Iran is busy with its intrigues in Syria. Afghanistan is growing its relationship with India. Pakistan is stuck in its internal political conundrum hosting protests and sit-ins. No one seems to have the time to think on the utilitarian values---to work to solve energy related issues to mention only one of them. Afghanistan is still sick with the Taliban epidemic. As one of my professor of international relation puts it “If I was Taliban I would let them built the pipeline and then blow it”. It is almost blatant that Taliban would be waiting for such an opportunity. For this pipeline to be successful the security clearance in Afghanistan is a must… and the likelihood of such an event to eventuate is similar to cleaning the Aegean stables. Another proposed pipeline is IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India). A country squeezed betwixt two allies…allies that smell of the envy of the appertaining the CPEC project. A pipeline between these three? I don’t think so. Also, Iran and India are developing their Chabahar port which further reduces the chances of any project between Pakistan.

The Kashagan Oil field that has been dubbed by The Economist as “Cash all gone”. The procrastinations added up almost $50bn in its cost and it is only recently that production has commenced there. I fear the same for this TAPI: A pipeline stuck in the maelstrom of regional politics.

Osama Rizvi

Independent economic analyst, Writer and Editor

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