TAPI Pipeline Signed, Sealed -- Not Yet Delivered
December 15, 2010
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
By Bruce Pannier
Smiling faces and rosy predictions were abundant in
Ashgabat over the weekend, when top officials from
Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India signed
a deal to build a natural-gas pipeline that promises
to change the region's energy fortunes.
But while the four countries finally signed off on
the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, or TAPI,
natural gas pipeline after 15 years of negotiations,
the biggest obstacle remains in place -- ensuring
security for a project that would wind through some of
the most hazardous territory in the world.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed the main
challenge to the TAPI pipeline becoming operational in
2014, as planned, during the December 11 signing
ceremony in the Turkmen capital.
Afghanistan, Karzai promised, would "put in efforts
to ensure security both during construction and after
completing the project." The country's Mines and
Industry Minister Wahidullah Shahrani confirmed that,
"five thousand to 7,000 security forces will be
deployed to safeguard the pipeline route."
This "huge" project is not important just for
Afghanistan. Turkmenistan is anxious to cash in on its
huge natural gas reserves, and Pakistan and India are
badly in need of additional energy resources. The
recent heightened desire of all these parties to
finally realize the project has propelled TAPI plans
forward in recent months, but solely at the level of
diplomatic and specialist discussions.
Annette Bohr, an associate fellow for the
Russia-Eurasia program at the London-based Chatham
House, notes that, "all of these actors very much
wanting this pipeline, but nonetheless we have these
security questions that have not improved but, in
fact, have become worse if anything."
Through Dangerous Terrain
TAPI's 1,680-kilometer route (given as 1,735
kilometers by some sources) originates in southern
Turkmenistan, winds south through Afghanistan's Herat
Province, and then arcs southeast until it reaches
Kandahar Province. Kandahar was the spiritual capital
for the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, and the city
and its surrounding areas remain the heart of the
Taliban insurgency against government and foreign
With construction slated to begin in 2012, these
sections of the pipeline are the main areas of concern
when it comes to security.
"Embarking on pipeline construction across
Afghanistan in the midst of a continuing war between a
NATO-backed government in Kabul and Taliban forces
still operating effectively in much of the country,"
Bohr explains, "it's just not going to happen."
Afghan Mines and Industry Minister Shahrani
expressed confidence that the ability of the pipeline
to provide jobs and benefit local communities by
supplying new sources of power and heating would be
enough to gain the support of local residents.
Shahrani said that once locals see the advantage of
the pipeline they will shun the Taliban. But for that
same reason, observers say, the Taliban would be
likely to focus on preventing the pipeline from being
And the pipeline's security worries don't end in
Afghanistan. From Afghanistan the pipeline would
continue through Pakistan's Baluchistan region, scene
of a violent campaign for independence from Islamabad.
Ethnic Baluchis have waged a campaign against the
Pakistani government for years targeting officials,
teachers, students, and generally all non-Baluchis who
try to settle or work in the region. While there has
been much talk about securing the TAPI pipeline in
Afghanistan, little has been said about security along
the line in Baluchistan. Pakistani officials have
proposed slightly altering the pipeline's route in
Pakistan to take it through more secure
Pashtun-inhabited areas of Baluchistan.
Question Of Funds
Bohr raises another issue that will come into play
before the first section is laid -- finances. The
Asian Development Bank has pledged to help finance
TAPI but the bulk of financing the project will be
left to private investors.
"We understand that the ADB backs this -- yes, but
even in this agreement that was struck on December 11,
we don't have details about funding in the framework
agreement." But, Bohr questions, "Where this massive
amount of money would come from and which bank would
be willing to underwrite it, is another question."
That question will have to be answered before
anyone will be able to say with certainty that TAPI
will be built at all. And even with ADB backing, and
presumably the support of the U.S. government and
possibly the Indian government, the unanswered
questions about security in Afghanistan and southern
Pakistan will likely give potential investors pause
when considering sinking millions and possible
billions of dollars into the project.
Hashem Mohmand of RFE/RL's Afghan Service and Ahmad
Shah of Radio Mashaal contributed to this report.