By Kamila Aliyeva
The energy-rich Turkmenistan is eager to successfully deliver the multi-billion dollars Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, which has been in the making for nearly three decades.
The pipe will link the regions of Central Asia and South Asia and transport up to 33 bcm of natural gas. Turkmen gas will help cover the growing need for blue fuel in India and Pakistan, where by 2030, the needs could jump up by half. The pipe will also reduce the constant shortage of energy resources in transit Afghanistan.
The construction of the Turkmen section of the TAPI was launched in December 2015. The total length of the pipeline is 1,814 kilometers, including 214 kilometers - on the territory of Turkmenistan, 774 kilometers - Afghanistan, 826 kilometers of Pakistan to the settlement of Fazilka on the border with India.
The trans-regional energy project expected to be inaugurated in 2019 is being hailed as a major initiative for bringing peace and enhancing connectivity in the region.
The construction pace and importance of TAPI was mulled at latest meeting between Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov on September 17.
Ghani stated that the large-scale projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India initiated by Ashgabat will be an invaluable contribution to the peaceful settlement of the situation in Afghanistan and the sustainable social and economic development of the entire Central Asian region.
Turkmenistan, a de-facto leader of the project, will hold an international tender for the purchase of pipes and other equipment necessary for the TAPI pipeline construction in September 2017.
Preparations are also being made for the projects of the gas compressor station and other associated facilities that will be built on the pipeline route.
Currently, the Turkmen section of the gas pipeline is being laid in line with the schedule. The pipeline will run from Galkynysh – the largest gas field in Turkmenistan – through the Afghan cities of Herat and Kandahar, and finally reach the Fazilka settlement located near the India-Pakistan border.
Time frame for the Afghan and Pakistani sections of the pipeline construction has not yet been determined.
Nevertheless, the TAPI Pipeline Company Limited consortium developing the project has signed a contract with German ILF Beratende Ingenieure GmbH for the provision of services for the preliminary design and management of the project in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The technical work in the territory of these states has already started.
Why TAPI is of high regional importance?
Turkmenistan is a landlocked country with huge gas reserves. The three main export routes include Central Asia – Center Pipeline (CAS) to Russia, Central Asia – China pipeline (CACP) and two routes to Iran which are Korpedzhe-Kurt Kui (KKK) and Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipelines.
Turkmenistan lost Russia as a customer a year ago, and has since provided gas only to China and Iran. The country’s relations with Iran were also seriously damaged by the gas dispute over Iran’s debts. China remains Turkmenistan’s biggest consumer.
However, Turkmenistan doesn’t want to be solely reliant on a single customer. Therefore, the Central Asian country began to look for alternative consumers in the European and Asian markets.
The TAPI will make it possible to deliver gas from Turkmenistan, which ranks fourth in the world for its gas reserves, to large and energy starved markets of South and Southeast Asia.
The pipeline also has the potential to contribute to reconciliation in Afghanistan, by creating economic opportunity for the Afghan people. It could create jobs in the war-torn country.
The project also could help to improve relations between India and Pakistan reducing chances of conflict between these two nuclear powers.
From India’s perspective, TAPI project will provide an alternative supply source of gas with dependable reserves leading to enhanced energy security. It will further diversify the fuel basket to the benefit of Indian economy as it would be used mainly in power, fertilizer and city gas sectors.
The main pitfalls for project’s implementation
One of the main problems for the project’s implementation lies in security issue as the pipeline is to pass through the territory of Afghanistan. Moreover, any downturn in India-Pakistan relation, while there is no guarantee that this would never happen, can negatively affect TAPI project.
Another problem which stems from the previous two is the financing issue. Though Asian Development Bank is assisting the project but funding from other sources is required which is difficult because international investors are doubtful about the project’s success.
Over the past 22 years since the project was first approved by the four nations with the support of international companies, many important regional developments, which should be taken into account when talking about TAPI’s implementation, have taken place, a senior oil and gas analyst at Vienna Energy Research Group Dr. Fereydoun Barkeshli said.
He told Azernews that pipelines diplomacy works well only through long-term security and stable regional territories. Therefore, it is important to resolve the issues of geopolitical threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan and then between the two adversaries namely India and Pakistan in order to successfully implement the project.
Barkeshli also noticed that during the last two decades, LNG has found to be less costly and time-consuming compared to building pipelines.
Currently, Pakistan and India are heavily investing in their LNG import infrastructure, thus their enthusiasm to complete TAPI soon is getting diminished. However, once LNG prices increase the TAPI project will regain its competitiveness and actuality, experts say.
This ambitious project has come a long way since it was first proposed in 1993, but it still has a long way to go.
Kamila Aliyeva is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Kami_Aliyeva
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