The long awaited peaceful natural gas pipeline project Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) connecting energy rich Central Asia to energy hunger South Asia has notable impacts in the region providing energy security, business climate, and paving the way for regional cooperation. The pipeline is 1814 kilometers in length exporting gas from Galkynysh region of Turkmenistan going through southern parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan reaching to Fazilka region of India.”The pipeline will have the capacity to carry 90 million standard cubic meters a day (mmscmd) (33 billion cubic meters per annum) for 30 years; Afghanistan will get 14 mmscmd and India and Pakistan will get equally 38 mmscmd of natural gas.”1The figures demonstrate that Afghanistan share in TAPI will be 16 percent and India and Pakistan will be having 42 percent each. The total cost of the project is around8-10 $billion (USD) which will be covered by government of Turkmenistan, Asian Development Bank (ABD), Islamic Development Bank, and Stakeholder countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and India).According to the official of the ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources of Pakistan, “Turkmen gas Company, being the consortium leader for TAPI project, is to contribute up to 85 percent of equity, and the rest of TAPI members namely Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would take 5 percent each equity share in the project company.” 2TAPI project is scheduled to be completed till 2019 and to start operation in the same year. The implementation of the project depends on the political will of the all four member countries. This paper argues the probability of TAPI implementation is higher in the nearest future due to its geo-political and geo-economic factors. Further the paper will discuss different geo-political and geo-economic dynamics that drive TAPI implementation from each member country’s perspective.
TAPI project plays an important role in the economic development of Afghanistan. It can provide Afghanistan transit fee of about 400 million dollars per year which is quite huge amount and which if spent efficiently by the government can eliminate a lot of economic tensions from the country including unemployment, poverty, and energy shortages. Along with that TAPI pipeline project tends to supply affordable and reliable natural gas to southern part of Afghanistan which will certainly help country to meet its energy demands. The first argument of this paper is that TAPI will be get functioned in Afghanistan and no security concern will hinder its operation because Taliban officially vowed to protect TAPI pipeline and will not attack it. This argument is relevant and reliable because Taliban as a strong insurgent group in Afghanistan, having political power, can make this project secure; the extent that how much to rely on their promise depends on the benefit they gets from this pipeline. Moreover, the history shows that Taliban did not make any attack on any energy infrastructure inside the country till 2016 and for the past 18-20 years they only attacked three times which shows that they do not have any intentions to damage any energy infrastructure as long as it benefits them financially and socially. Additionally, as per a report, Afghanistan will provide 7000 security guards to protect TAPI pipeline.3 This will guarantee the security of the pipeline inside Afghanistan.
Second argument that supports TAPI implementation in the near future is the growing demand of India; third largest energy consumer after China and United States. Indian economy is emerging and so does the demand for energy; natural gas being one of the main fuel sources used in the industrialization is exploited in the cement industry, textile industry, agriculture sector, and electricity generation.According to a study done by Gaurav Bhattacharya University of Petroleum and Energy, Indian natural gas consumption is increasing in each sector and it will rise on average to more than 30 billion cubic meters till 2025; and so they suggest that natural gas is the only resource that can assist Indian economy to meet its future demands.4Iran being one of the largest gas producers in the world may create obstacles for TAPI because it does not want Central Asia (Turkmenistan) to take over its place in the South Asian energy market. Even though India has signed IPI (India-Pakistan-Iran) project of natural gas pipeline with Iran that would export gas through Pakistan the project is not implemented and stopped due to international sanctions on Tehran. Another project was also under consideration among countries like Iran-Oman-India (IOI) but this gas pipeline is not even on paper yet. Therefore, the only Project whose likelihood of execution is higher in the nearest future is TAPI gas pipeline which would cover Indian rising demand of the natural gas in order to boost economic activities. Furthermore, TAPI project is perceived as peaceful pipeline project between India and Pakistan that would be also a political push for TAPI implementation.
From the perspective of land-locked country like Turkmenistan TAPI is one of the possible ways to diversify its natural gas exports. Turkmenistan’s government is focusing on natural gas market diversification in order to be less dependent on Chinese market. For now only China is the biggest importer of Turkmen gas who on one side supports Turkmenistan by providing infrastructure and financial support in the form of debt, but, on the other hand it increases Turkmen debt on China which makes Turkmen economy vulnerable and fragile. In addition to that China has also signed a natural gas pipeline with Russia that would export gas from eastern Siberia to Far East region of Russia and to China. The project between Russia and China is called Altai Project which is about 3000kilometers in length and would export 38 billion cubic meter of natural gas to China,5 which is an enormous amount to meet the demand of Chinese economy. Both Russia and China are very optimistic for the implementation of this project and according to Russian energy giant Gazprom, about 83 percent of the project has been complemented which comprises of 1791 kilometers from Chayandinskoye to the Chinese border in the Amur Region, and will start operation next year (2019).6If Altai project starts operating it would negatively affect Turkmen economy because Chinese demand for Turkmen gas would decrease. In order to be on safe side Turkmenistan is promoting TAPI pipeline and to link itself to the South Asian market which is an energy deficit market and are ready to pay higher prices for the Turkmen gas.
Last but not the least argument that supports TAPI implementation is that Pakistan is showing high willingness to support and promote TAPI pipeline. Pakistan economy is going to benefit a lot from TAPI in terms of transit fee and also natural gas imports to meet its growing domestic demand. Similar to India Pakistan’s economy is also dependent on natural gas imports and mainly exploits natural gas in big industries like cement, fertilizer, transport, commercial use and also in domestic consumption. Turkmenistan assured Pakistan to provide natural gas to the extent that would meet the needs of its economy. Unlike IPI, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project is supported by United States officially which would increase the possibility of project completion and operation; since IPI stopped due to sanctions of United States on Tehran. Moreover, according to Omid Shokri Kalehsar, senior energy security analyst, Saudi Arabia also being the opposition of Iran is supporting TAPI project; in fact Saudi government is financially supporting Pakistan to make its part of TAPI pipeline. 7In the nearest future TAPI would reduce Pakistan’s energy dependency on Iran by not only importing natural gas but also relatively cheap electricity from Turkmenistan. According to ADB report, Pakistan needs a secure energy source to increase its electrification level in the country because the records show that Pakistan was confronted with acute power shortage of over 5000 megawatts in 2012; the main reason was lack of reasonable and consistent energy sources.8 TAPI will increase economic growth through energy trade and investments in the region and would foster regionalism.
In conclusion, TAPI pipeline project has geo-political and geo-economic benefits for the member countries and each country has prioritized the project to be an energy secure country. Despite many concerns TAPI project has relatively high probability to get implemented in the coming few years. Yet, the countries should not under-estimate security concerns and external forces interventions in the region like Iran that can hinder the successful operation of the project. There should be a joint organization that constantly monitors the flow of natural gas, security issues and technical problems of the pipeline. Afghanistan should provide assurance of the security of the pipeline and Pakistan should coordinate and cooperate in providing complete security because Pakistan has significant influence on the insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
Nadia Abdul Malik