Thursday, December 23, 2010

Leaders Sign Agreement for TAPI Pipeline

Like the phoenix bird who rises from its own ashes, the mythical Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline is back in the news. This proposed energy corridor was first researched by Unocal in 1996, but plans had to be shelved because of the violence along the route. Since that time, the United States has invaded Afghanistan, there is an unconventional war taking place between Taliban supporters and the Americans, Pakistan has become a safehaven for al-Qaeda, etc. The pipeline route goes through the heart of the fighting: the southern Afghan city of Kandahar (birthplace of the Taliban) and the Pakistani city of Quetta ("Afghanistan's President Karzai signs deal on gas pipeline project," Los Angeles Times, 12 December 2010). Even the former leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, has been reported openly walking the streets of that city.

To protect the pipeline as it travels through Afghanistan, Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said the government would commit 7,000 of its troops to guard the route once construction begins in 2012 ("Afghans to defend TAPI pipeline,", 15 December 2010). Grad Hewad, a political researcher with the Afghan Analysts Network, made light of the security challenge. "The route through Herat and Kandahar is not so difficult for the Afghan National Security Forces to control. US military progress will likely improve along the route, it's a very strategic interest, and support from the local population can also increase," he said. (

Leaders of the countries through which the pipeline would flow met in Ashgabat on December 11 and signed a preliminary accord to build the pipeline. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora placed their signature on a document that requires the backing of the Asia Development Bank, in the opinion of the Turkmen president. The ADB has said it will consider, as the project develops, how it can assist in the financing ("Turkmen push trans-Afghan pipeline to India with government accord," Hurriyet Daily News, 14 December 2010.)

The pipeline is planned to be 1,043 miles long, stretching from the Dauletabad gas field in Turkmenistan, to its eventual terminus in India. The pipeline has a capacity to carry 1.9 billion cubic feet of gas per year. Of that amount, 1.2 billion is scheduled for delivery to India, with the remaining 700 million cubic feet going to Afghanistan.

According to the Economic Times of India, Turkmenistan will sell the gas for $272 per thousand cubic meters, a markup of approximately one third from what the Turkmen are selling to China. After adding in time charges and transit fees to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the actual price to India will be approximately $362 per tcm. At this price, Afghanistan would earn $1.4 billion in transit fees. ( President Berdmukhammedov believes that the pipeline will act as a stabilizing influence on the region. ("Afghan Pipeline Garners Support," The St. Petersburg Times, 14 December 2010).

Despite all the posturing, the future for this pipeline looks dubious at best. There are now 100,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, the same number that the Soviet Union deployed to that country in the 1980s. Neither superpower has been able to bring peace to the area--so it is doubtful that a handful of Afghan soldiers could protect such a beckoning target from terrorist attack.

Dr. James J. Coyle is available to speak to your organization or at your event. Please contact him at