TAPI Pipeline

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Regional Geo-economic Advantage or Political Effort to Isolate Iran?

Ali Valigholizadeh
Expert on International and Geopolitical Issues

TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline, which has been nicknamed the 21st century Silk Road, was first proposed after officials from Turkmenistan and Pakistan reached an early agreement on Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline in 1995.

The American UNOCAL Company then established a consortium to carry preliminary studies on the project, which was later mothballed in 1998 due to problems arising from the war in Afghanistan. Following the fall of Taliban in 2002, however, the issue received renewed attention and several rounds of multilateral negotiations were held on the initiative of the new Afghan government.

Meanwhile, Presidents of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan signed an agreement in 2002 for transmission of the Central Asian gas reserves. As a result, they first decided to build a 1,500-km pipeline to connect Dauletabad gas field in Turkmenistan to Gwadar port in Pakistan. An official agreement has also reached in 2006.

At the same time, India was under US pressure to quit the Peace Pipeline project which was meant to take Iran’s gas to the Indian subcontinent. The United States then showed interest in the above agreement. Finally, India joined the scheme in 2008, which was then called Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. After India joined in, the pipeline was renamed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline or TAPI.

According to the agreements, the pipeline will be 1,680 km long and will transit a daily total of 90 million cubic meters and an annual amount of 33 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The project will be funded by the Asian Development Bank. Although total costs have not been determined yet, current estimates put the cost at about 6-10 billion dollars.

The question is has the project been undertaken due to its regional geoeconomic advantages or is it solely motivated by political reasons to further isolate Iran? The project enjoys strong backing of the United States, as Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan did. Although there are many physical and security barriers to the project, its geoeconomic advantages cannot be denied.

Careful study of the project, however, will reveal that the West is lending support to it in order to further isolate Iran and reduce Russia’s influence in Central Asia while caring less for its geoeconomic advantages. The United States is, in fact, using the project as a good opportunity to bring about economic developments in the region.

As the biggest supporter of the project, the United States believes that it is of vital importance to development of bilateral ties among regional states, solving existing problems, and speeding up development process in Afghanistan.

At present, economic experts consider the project as a main route for transmission of rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea to global markets and have nicknamed it contemporary Silk Road. Experts backing the plan maintain that implementation of the project in the volatile Central Asia region which has been witnessing instability as well as ethnic and religious conflicts for long years, will greatly boost relations among regional states and strengthen political ties.

They argue that the project may lead to creation of a new regional organization involving Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Let’s not forget that bolstering political and trade ties between Central Asia and South Asian countries will reduce regional influence of Russia and further secure the foothold of Western countries.

On the whole, the project holds relative promises for the resolution of regional disputes. Its revenues will also fuel economic and social development in the region, increase cooperation among regional states, and relive the “Silk Road” memories after long centuries.

However, it should be noted that this is a totally American project which aims to isolate Iran in the region under the cover of creating new geoeconomic advantages. On the other hand, financial problems, technical and security issues, as well as longstanding ethnic and political conflicts in the region have cast serious doubts on the possible success of the project.

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