TAPI pipeline can end up as a diplomatic and strategic football for Islamabad to antagonize New Delhi. Well even for Kabul vis-à-vis Islamabad. Inherent therefore in TAPI pipeline are a new silk route and a pipe dream
Will Tajikistan- Afghanistan- Pakistan- India pipeline, TAPI, for short, remain a transnational pipedream? A difficult question to answer though there has been some movement in terms of its concept and execution after it remained on the drawing board for close to 15 years. The four countries behind the pipeline — slated to be ready by 2022, held a long-awaited ground-breaking ceremony in Turkmenistan last December. The Asian Development Bank and Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Development Bank, have together offered $1.5 billion to finance the $ 10bn bill. And the TAPI Pipeline Co. — a consortium made up of Turkmengaz, Afghan Gas Enterprise, Pakistan’s Inter State Gas Systems and GAIL India — is organizing roadshows in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and London to raise additional funds.
Cash strapped Afghanistan stands to get more than $1 billion plus from transit fees. At least 12000 jobs will be created to wean away Afghan youth from insurgents.
So, what stands in the way of TAPI?
Well, the Taliban and Kashmir issue.
Unless, the Taliban and Afghan government arrive at a settlement to end the war, building the Afghan portion of pipeline will be difficult. Likewise, unless India and Pakistan take steps to improve their ties, particularly over Kashmir and water, question mark will remain on TAPI in some form or the other.
Summing up these ifs and buts, Stratfor says, “TAPI has come a long way since it was first proposed, but it still has a long way to go. The countries involved in the project will need to address the problems that have held it up over the past 20 years if they hope to get it up and running by 2022. Otherwise, TAPI will be relegated to the realm of ambitious ideas”.
TAPI is a 1735-kilometer long pipeline running from the Galkynysh natural gas field in southern Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. Once complete, the pipeline will transport a total of 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year (5 bcm to Afghanistan and 14 bcm each to Pakistan and India). At the same time, it could offer Kabul a rare chance to develop its economy — that is, if it ever gets off the ground.
As pointed out at the outset, the Taliban insurgency is undermining the pipeline’s progress, though when they were in the driver’s seat in Kabul, the Islamist radicals did try to give a push to the project, and even opened negotiations with Argentina’s Bridas and the United States’ Unocal, which were vying for the contract. In fact, Unocal projected its expertise in laying similar pipelines in insurgency infested regions of Myanmar as its biggest plus.
The Clinton administration of the day in Washington saw the pipeline as ‘an opportunity to challenge Russia’s dominance’ in the newly independent Central Asian states ‘by diverting the region’s energy deposits away from Moscow and toward Europe and South Asia’.
The plan became a victim of al Qaeda’s attacks on the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. Three years later American forces marched into Afghanistan at the head of a multi-nation NATO contingent and sent the Taliban packing into hideouts on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line that divides the two countries. And in 2002, Afghan, Pakistani and Turkmen presidents signed a MOU to begin work on a pipeline from Dauletabad gas field in Turkmenistan to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. India formally joined the pipeline in 2008.
According to analysts, TAPI will at present skirt the edges of the Hindu Kush Mountains in southern Afghanistan, crossing through the Taliban’s strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
As if it is turning a new leaf, the Taliban on Nov 29 offered to guard the pipeline for what it termed as Afghanistan’s national interest. The offer met with scepticism. For obvious reasons.
It is difficult to accept Taliban’s word on its face value. Its track record is such. It has attacked several transnational projects some funded and executed by India through the years. Once in the past (1999), the Taliban militia cut off the Helmand River’s flow to Iran, causing a crisis in Iran’s Hamun Lake region. And at the beginning of 2016, the Taliban militants attacked Kabul’s main power supply line originating in Uzbekistan.
What prompted the Taliban to bat for TAPI is the fund crisis it is passing through. It gets cash from two sources – one drug trafficking and protection rackets, two donations (nearly $200 million annually, according to some estimates) from the Persian Gulf and Pakistan -based charities and private donors.
As a Stratfor commentary says, “Disillusioned by the bloodshed, many of the Taliban’s Gulf patrons are cutting down on their donations, straining the organization’s finances. By proposing to guard TAPI, the Taliban were probably hoping to project a more moderate image to win back their donors”.
Undoubtedly the animosities between Afghanistan and Pakistan and between Pakistan and India have the potential of derailing TAPI. Even now Pakistan does not give transit facilities through its soil to India- Afghan trade forcing the two countries to explore air transportation of goods and services. It also is known to block trade routes with Afghanistan through Torkham from time to time. In the Calendar Year 2016, this blockade was imposed twice, “leaving hundreds of cargo trucks to pile up on both sides of the border for as long as two weeks”.
Put simply, TAPI pipeline can end up as a diplomatic and strategic football for Islamabad to antagonize New Delhi. Well even for Kabul vis-à-vis Islamabad. Inherent therefore in TAPI pipeline are a new silk route and a pipe dream
-by Malladi Rama Rao