Afghanistan Breaks Ground on 1,127-Mile ‘Peace Pipeline’

Courtesy of the New York Times, a report on the latest developments around the TAPI pipeline:

One of the boldest efforts to date to stabilize Afghanistan through economic development began on Friday with a ceremonial start to construction on a $22.5 billion natural gas pipeline crossing the country’s war-ravaged south.

The pipeline, known as TAPI for its route through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, taking in some of the world’s most contested land, is an experiment in pipeline diplomacy of a type considered but ultimately rejected in other hot spots like on the Korean Peninsula.

Such so-called “peace pipelines” have been contested. They were once also considered, but not built, as a solution to a long-simmering conflict west of here between Armenia and Azerbaijan, also involving Central Asian energy.

Enemies forced to share energy infrastructure are as likely to blow it up or shut off supplies as make peace, experience in Eastern Europe has shown. Ukraine and Russia, for example, fought two so-called gas wars over prices and transit fees before a real war broke out in 2014. Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, has found no backing for its proposed trans-Korean gas pipeline crossing the Demilitarized Zone, which it says would ease tensions.

Still, leaders and ministers from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India attending the groundbreaking ceremony on Friday in Herat described hopes that trade and mutual economic benefit could overcome old conflicts.

“Afghanistan believes in a policy of connectivity, not separation,” Ashraf Ghani, the country’s president, told the gathered dignitaries. “South Asia is going to connect with Central Asia through Afghanistan, after a century of separation.”

Like a long straw sucking at the energy riches in Central Asia, the 1,127-mile-long pipe will connect the state of Punjab in northern India with the Galkynysh gas field in the desert in eastern Turkmenistan.

Plans call for an accompanying fiber-optic cable and eventually a railroad along part of the route, from Turkmenistan to Pakistan.

Afghanistan, which is promoting its location for trade as “the roundabout of Asia,” will benefit from construction jobs that could offer an alternative to war for young men, and by withdrawing some of the gas as cheap fuel for power stations and heating.

Once energy starts to flow, the country also expects about $400 million a year in transit fees, partly offsetting some of the international aid that now props up the government.

Like so many other energy infrastructure works in the region, the project is deeply entwined with politics.

In the jostling for influence and dominance in Central Asia a century ago, the great powers mapped caravan routes and mountain passes in a contest known as the Great Game. In its modern variant, they compete with pipelines. The United States has supported pipelines to bypass Russia and alleviate former Soviet states’ economic dependence on it. And bringing Central Asian energy to market eases global dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

The United States is backing the TAPI line as an alternative to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India, or IPI, another “peace pipeline” that would tap Iran’s large South Pars gas field.

The pipeline is a major energy project: It will carry 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year, roughly the amount the Netherlands consumes in that time.

It will pass through five southern Afghan provinces — Herat, Farah, Nimruz, Helmand and Kandahar — that have been Taliban strongholds, and security had been a major concern. However, both the Taliban and Pakistan, a country believed to hold sway over the insurgent group, have pledged support.

“Our policy is clear,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement that coincided with Friday’s ceremony. “We are not against the TAPI project but are supporting it, and we are ready to provide security for the project when it is needed.”

An Isle of Man-based holding company will oversee the project with a Turkmen state company, Turkmengaz, reportedly the majority shareholder. In Turkmenistan, officials have said they received loans from Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Development Bank.

Oil companies first proposed the pipeline in 1995 as a means to bring landlocked Central Asian energy to market, but it dropped off their agenda after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan the following year.

The plan was revived after the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2020.

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 24th, 2018 at 9:37 am and is filed under Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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