By Angel Millar
Bangladesh said last week that it is keen to join the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project. The pipeline is already projected to cover nearly 1,700 km, and would need to be extended if Bangladesh were accepted into the project.
“There is a request from Bangladesh to join the project,” Turkmenistan’s acting Minister of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources Kakageldy Abdullaev said at the Petrotech 2012 Conference, held in New Delhi recently. “We require official note, which will be considered by all the four governments.’’ Bangladesh’s interest comes in response to an invitation, from the four TAPI nations, to consortiums interested in developing the pipeline.
The Gulf Times reports that the $7.6 billion TAPI pipeline is expected to have a total gas capacity of 90 million standard cubic metres (mscmd) per day, originating in Turkmenistan. Afghanistan would absorb 14 mscmd, while India and Pakistan would each use consume 38 mscmd after it begins operating in 2018.
The TAPI project is backed by the Asian Development Bank, the largest shareholders of which are the USA and Japan (each of which have 15.65% of subscribed power and just under 13% of voting power [pdf], which massively outweighs other member states).
Washington sees TAPI as an opportunity to bolster Afghanistan’s economy, through its charging of a transit fee. However, the US geopolitics extends beyond the somewhat porous borders of Afghanistan/ As such, Bangladesh’s expressed interest in the pipeline will undoubtedly be welcomed.
Heralded as the “peace pipeline,” TAPI is drawing the historically antagonistic nation states of Pakistan and India into closer cooperation, at least on this particular issue. However, originating in Turkmenistan’s Yoloten-Osman gas field, and passing through the Taliban strongholds of Afghanistan’s Herat and Kandahar provinces, before reaching Pakistan, security poses a significant challenge to the construction and maintenance of the pipeline, and potentially jeopardizes the project.
The Asian Development Bank has proposed alternative routes, but, according to Pakistan’s Nation magazine there are questions about Turkmenistan’s ability to meet the demand. India, with its population of more than 1.2 billion and fast-growing economy, will quadruple its energy needs in the next five years alone. And Turkmenistan’s pipeline infrastructure is regarded as inadequate to meet the demands of TAPI – notably the country remains largely dependent on Russia to export to the West.
Unsurprisingly, Russia and its energy giant Gazprom have also expressed interest in participating in the TAPI pipeline project, although Russia continues to back the IPI project which would see Pakistan receiving gas from Iran.
Washington’s support for TAPI is to a large degree a reflection of its displeasure at IPI, and the lifeline it throws to Iran.
Keen to keep pressure on Tehran, economically – due to the suspicion that Iran is developing nuclear weaponry, not merely nuclear energy, as the regime claims – the USA has put pressure on Pakistan to drop the IPI pipeline project and to focus solely on TAPI. India, which was originally part of IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India), has already abdicated from the project.
However, Iran and Pakistan have already signed a bilateral agreement on IPI, and Russia and China are supporting it, partly in the ongoing battle to secure influence in the region.