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Pipeline and regional stability

05 January, 2011

By Prof Dr Azmat Hayat Khan


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The long-awaited gas pipeline agreement TAPI was signed in December 2010 by the heads of Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Indian PNG Minister, Murli Deora, in Ashgabat. This marks a new era of pipeline diplomacy between the energy-rich Central and the energy-deficient South Asia for resources.

The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at an estimated cost of $7.6 billion. It will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then India. The gas supply is expected to start by the end of 2014 or early 2015, as stipulated in the agreement. The 1,680-kilometre pipeline will run from the Dauletabad gas field, in Turkmenistan, to supply 33 billion cubic meters gas to Afghanistan, and then through Quetta and Multan in Pakistan. The final destination of the pipeline will be the Indian town of Fazilka, near the border between Pakistan and India. Under the agreement, both the countries will get 42 percent of the supply quota, while the remaining would be given to Afghanistan.

By and large, TAPI is expected to boost the economies of all the four participating countries and would promote cooperation among these states. Further, it is a vital project for the development and progress of the region, and serve the cause of maintaining peace in South and Central Asia. Thus, the four countries need to take concrete steps to make it a reality, specifically because of their economic interests. It would provide revenue and diversification of export routes for Turkmenistan. For Pakistan and India, it would address energy deficits, while the potential for export to other countries through the Pakistan’s Gwadar Port is an added advantage. In Afghanistan, it would provide revenue for development and gas for industrial enterprises. At the same time, the deal is consistent with the US declared policy of linking Central and South Asia and diversifying export routes for the Turkmen gas.

Another significance of the project is that a large number of human resources would be recruited for the construction of the pipeline, and thereafter on monitoring, storage, and other related assignments. According to estimates, more than 12,000 jobs will be created for the Afghan people, only during its construction. In the long run, it would provide direct and indirect employment opportunities to the people of all the four countries, thus substantially reducing unemployment in these countries. Apart from this positive aspect, especially for the countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, the project would bring a huge amount of the transit fee, as the pipeline covers long stretches through the Pak-Afghan territories – only Kabul could reap $1.4 billion a year.

The project is, indeed, the first formal effort for linking the energy rich Central Asia with the energy deficient South Asia. Moreover, it would provide an outlet to the land-locked Central Asian Republics (CARs) through a shortest possible route for the rest of the world.

Besides, a lot of hope for the economic prosperity TAPI is expected to bring in, there are fears linked with its completion. The gas pipeline will pass through some Taliban-dominated areas in Afghanistan. TAPI member countries, and the ADB, have shown concern over the security of the pipeline in these areas, and also some areas of Pakistan that are frequently hit by the terrorists. Since Afghanistan and Pakistan are facing the menace of terrorism, construction cannot begin unless concrete measures are adopted to put an end to the unrest, which mainly requires a political solution rather than military one.

As decided, TAPI’s construction will start by 2012, while all the member states hope to complete by the end of 2014. But many believe it is not possible because of the security concerns in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s FATA and Balochistan. However, since the demand for energy in both India and Pakistan is increasing, they have no option except to complete it.

Pakistan’s gas requirement is increasing annually by 10 percent; therefore, TAPI is considered vital for fulfilling its growing energy requirement. In addition, it has welcomed India’s participation in the project. Pakistan will receive up to $700 million royalty a year, as a transiting state supplying gas to India.

For Afghanistan too TAPI is very important and it will be the biggest project in the country. That is why the Karzai government has shown its resolve to deploy five to seven thousand security forces to safeguard its route. Kabul seems to have the political will and a powerful economic incentive to keep the Taliban away from TAPI. In this regard, the ongoing efforts of President Hamid Karzai for the reconciliation and reintegration of the Taliban needs further momentum.

Prior to TAPI, the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline agreement was signed, despite USA’s opposition. Islamabad is still not ready to abandon IPI because of its severe energy crisis, which is a legitimate reason to undertake multiple energy projects. India too has not shelved IPI, but it is concerned about the security in Pakistan.

Anyway, both Pakistan and India are energy-deficient countries; they need to do what is in their best interest. So, the economic dependence of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India on each other for energy resources is likely to improve bilateral ties among them, which will ultimately add to regional stability.

 

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