Monday, June 27, 2011

TAPI Being Discussed, Not Built

Plans to build a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline continue to be discussed, despite the lack of security in transit countries that would allow the project to be built. In January, Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna met with his Afghan counterpart to discuss the pipeline, which has the support of the Asian Development Bank, according to This was followed by a meeting between Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, after which the leaders expressed a willingness to cooperate on a range of energy projects, including TAPI, according to the Tehran Times. In a May meeting between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Medvedev, the governments announced Moscow may join the project with Gazprom serving as one of the suppliers, according to UPI.

To obtain Russian approval of the project, Karzai agreed that Gazprom could be involved in the construction and operation of the project, according to Central Asia newswire. The announcement was in contravention of the wishes of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who rejected Gazprom's involvement in the project in August 2010. The Turkmen president had characterized Gazprom's attempted involvement at the time as a Russian attempt to meddle in Turkmenistan's energy affairs.

The principle supporter of TAPI since the 1990s, and the force behind the Asian Development Bank's endorsement of the project, is the United States. According to U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr., "The country's substantial natural resources may make Turkmenistan one of the top five countries worldwide in terms of gas reserves," which have "attracted the attention of many countries intersted in securing Turkmen gas for various pipeline projects...The U.S. has welcomed renewed interest in TAPI." Blake credited President Berdimuhamedov for "almost single-handedly" resurrecting TAPI, reports Blake was speaking at Rice University in Houston, and he said that if TAPI were built, it would occur without Russian or Chinese involvement. "Washington's vital interest in TAPI includes having an alternative route for Central Asian gas that will bypass the Russian pipelines' network...India has objected to any Chinese firm or consortium being given contracts related to the building of (TAPI)...The U.S. has supported a way to break Russia's and China's monopoly on exporting Caspian basin energy to the rest of the world." Blake did not explain, however, how to prevent Afghan President Karzai or Pakistan President Zardari from bringing Gazprom into the equation. In fact, in late May Pakistani advisor on petroleum and natural resources Assim Hussain signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Russian energy Sergi Shnatro pledging cooperation on a number of Pakistani energy projects, including TAPI, according to Oil and Gas Journal. Both presidents witnesses the signing ceremony.

Should TAPI be constructed, the President of the Russian Union of Oil and Gas Producers Gennady Shmal speculates that Turkmenistan would not have enough gas to fill both TAPI and Nabucco. "A gas pipeline to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India is of great geopolitical importance for Turkmenistan and, therefore, has more chances than Nabucco. If it is built, there will be virtually nothing left for Nabucco, which has no alternative resource base. TAPI's construction will seriously complicate the prospect of gas deliveries for Nabucco," he said according to the Voice of Russia. Such concerns remain of little interest, however, until it can be shown that Afghan and Pakistani insurgents would ever allow the project to be built.