By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
On November 14, Pakistan and Turkmenistan signed an agreement to build the $7.6 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project under which Pakistan will get 1.3 billion cubic feet per day of gas. The agreement was signed during a visit by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan to Islamabad.
The trans-Afghanistan pipeline, first proposed in early 1990s, will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India.
Under the proposed project, the 1,680 kilometre-long gas pipeline, backed by the Asian Development Bank, will bring 3.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (bcfd) from Turkmenistan’s gas fields to Multan and end at the northwestern Indian town of Fazilka. Under the agreement, Afghanistan’s share will be 500 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd), Pakistan’s share will be 1,325 mmcfd and India’s 1,325 mmcfd.
The original project started on 15 March 1995 when an inaugural memorandum of understanding between the governments of Turkmenistan and Pakistan for a pipeline project was signed. This project was promoted by Argentinian company Bridas Corporation.
The U.S. company Unocal, in conjunction with the Saudi oil company Delta, promoted alternative project without Bridas’ involvement. In 1995, Unocal signed an $8 billion deal with Turkmenistan to construct two pipelines (one for oil, one for gas), as part of a larger plan for two pipelines intended to transport oil and gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan. In August 1996, the Central Asia Gas Pipeline, Ltd. (CentGas) consortium for construction of a pipeline, led by Unocal, was formed.
Since the pipeline was to pass through Afghanistan, it was necessary to work with the Taliban. In January 1998, the Taliban regime, selected CentGas over Argentinian competitor Bridas Corporation, and signed an agreement that allowed the proposed project to proceed.
In 1997, representatives of the Taliban are invited to the Texas headquarters of Unocal to negotiate their support for the pipeline. Future President George W. Bush is Governor of Texas at the time. The Taliban appear to agree to a $2 billion pipeline deal, but will do the deal only if the US officially recognizes the Taliban regime. The Taliban meet with US officials. According to the Daily Telegraph, “the US government, which in the past has branded the Taliban’s policies against women and children ‘despicable,’ appears anxious to please the fundamentalists to clinch the lucrative pipeline contract.”
It was reported that the Taliban met with Enron officials while in Texas. Enron, headquartered in Texas, had a large financial interest in the pipeline at the time.
On April 17, 1998, Bill Richardson, the US Ambassador to the UN, meets Taliban officials in Kabul. (All such meetings were illegal, because the US still officially recognizes the government the Taliban ousted as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.) US officials at the time call the oil and gas pipeline project a “fabulous opportunity” and are especially motivated by the “prospect of circumventing Iran, which offers another route for the pipeline.” [Boston Globe, 9/20/2001]
On December 5, 1998, Unocal announces it is withdrawing from the CentGas pipeline consortium, and closing three of its four offices in Central Asia. President Clinton refuses to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, making business there legally problematic.
Interestingly, the 9/11 Commission later concludes that some State Department diplomats are willing to “give the Taliban a chance” because it might be able to bring stability to Afghanistan, which would allow a Unocal oil pipeline to be built through the country. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
The TAP project was revived less than one month after the 9/11 attacks when US Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin meets (Oct 9, 2001) with the Pakistani oil minister to brief on the gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan, across Afghanistan, to Pakistan, which appears to be revived “in view of recent geopolitical developments.” [Frontier Post – 10/10/2011]
On May 30, 2002, Afghanistan’s interim leader, Hamid Karzai (who formerly worked for Unocal), Turkmenistan’s President Niyazov, and Pakistani President General Musharraf meet in Islamabad to sign a memorandum of understanding on the trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline project.
TAP is consistent with the US declared policy of linking Central and South Asia and diversifying export routes for Turkmen gas.
The proposed 1,680 kilometres pipeline could carry one trillion cubic metres of Turkmen gas over a 30-year period, according to Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Bayramgeldy Nedirov. But the route, particularly the 735 kilometres Afghan leg, presents significant security challenges.
In January 2009, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, then NATO Secretary General, said, “Protecting pipelines is first and foremost a national responsibility. And it should stay like that. NATO is not in the business of protecting pipelines. But when there’s a crisis, or if a certain nation asks for assistance, NATO could, I think, be instrumental in protecting pipelines on land.” These comments suggest that NATO troops could be called upon to assist Afghanistan in protecting the pipeline. Since pipelines last 50 years or more, this could auger a very long commitment in Afghanistan. [Journal of Energy Security, March 23, 2010]
Interestingly, in February 2002 the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv pointed out: “If one looks at the map of the big American bases created [in the Afghan war], one is struck by the fact that they are completely identical to the route of the projected oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean.” [Chicago Tribune, 3/18/2002]
Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline
The trans-Afghanistan pipeline (TAPI) agreement was signed at a time when Washington is pressing Islamabad to abandon the pipeline project to supply Iranian gas to Pakistan.
Washington has never tried to hide its opposition to Pakistan`s plans for importing gas from Iran and has always pressured it to seek alternate options. The purpose has been to isolate Tehran in the region over its nuclear program. Apparently, it was under US pressure that India decided to opt out of the project in 2009. In return, New Delhi successfully secured US cooperation for its civil nuclear power projects in 2008.
In January 2010, the United States asked Pakistan to abandon the pipeline project. If canceling the project, Pakistan would receive assistance from the United States for construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal and importing electricity from Tajikistan through Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. [Times of India – Sept 7, 2009]
On April 12, 2010, Iran announced that it has completed construction of 1,000 kilometers of the pipeline out of the 1,100 kilometers portion on Iranian soil. On this Iranian ambassador to Pakistan said that “Iran has done her job and it now depends on Pakistan”. The construction of the pipeline on Iranian side is on pace to be completed by 2011. On November 6, 2010, Iran announced that in view of energy crisis in Pakistan, Iran has already expedited the work on the Iranian part of the pipeline and the construction of the project is in its final stages on the Iranian side adding that “the ball is in Pakistan’s court now and it depends on them how long they take to complete work on the project”. [Wikipedia]
According to newspaper reports on 17 June 2011, Iran has given up talks with India on the pipeline and is pursuing the pipeline bilaterally with Pakistan. In July 2011, Pakistani minister for petroleum and natural resources announced that Iran has finished its work on laying the pipeline and Pakistan would start the work for building the pipeline within the next six months.
In November 2010, a Wikileaks cable disclosed that American diplomats had said it was “unlikely that Iran would build a gas pipeline to Pakistan.” Washington opposes the deal because of the economic benefits for Tehran, which has been subject to the United States and international community’s sanctions against Iran. The diplomatic cable noted that the planned pipeline would not move forward because, “the Pakistanis don’t have the money to pay for either the pipeline, or the gas.” [Wikipedia]
The 2,775-kilometre (1,724 mi) pipeline will be supplied from the South Pars field. It will start from Asalouyeh and stretch over 1,100 kilometres (680 mi) through Iran. In Pakistan, it will pass through Baluchistan and Sindh. In Khuzdar, a branch would spur-off to Karachi, while the main pipeline will continue towards Multan. From Multan, the pipeline may be expanded to India.
Commenting on the TAPI agreement, Pakistan’s leading newspaper The Nation said: “Pakistan seems to have succumbed to US pressure and sacrificed its national interest in pursuit of the American desire to bypass Iran.”
The paper said, apart from the relative merits of the projects, one of the biggest services the present government can perform for the USA is to give the impression that the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is in any way a substitute for the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline. The Nation emphasized that Pakistan needs both the projects if it is to meet the gas shortages that have already hit the country in the past, and which will further worsen, reaching new heights this winter.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com
The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of Info Press