New Delhi: India is moving cautiously forward on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project even as Turkmenistan and Afghanistan push stalled negotiations for the establishment of the decades-old project, ThePrint has learned.
As New Delhi continues to take part in the mega pipeline project conceived in the 1990s, its concerns about safety and security around the project have increased with the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan, senior sources told ThePrint.
The sources said the $10 billion project had made no progress since it was conceived some three decades ago, mainly due to tensions between India and Pakistan, but developments in Afghanistan further spoiled the chances of progress.
During the very first India-Central Asia SummitTurkmenistan’s president “highlighted the importance” of the project, according to the joint statement from the summit.
The project aims to transport 33 billion cubic meters of gas from the Galkynysh gas field in Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and finally India via the 1814 km long gas pipeline project, also called “Peace Pipeline”.
It is expected to pass through Kandahar and Herat provinces in Afghanistan, from where it will pass through Quetta and Multan in Pakistan and then end in Fazilka, a district of Punjab near the Indo-Pakistan border.
Sources say it will not be easy for India to resume the talks even though the Modi government had taken some steps in recent years to advance the project – before the Taliban came to power in Kabul.
One of India’s main concerns is that once the project is operational, many Indian industries will become dependent on it. Pakistan can take advantage of this and cut off supplies during times of tension, which will then lead to huge losses, sources said.
Another reason that will make it difficult for India to move is the fact that New Delhi does not officially recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which is one of the parties, sources said.
A special-purpose international consortium – TAPI Pipeline Co. Ltd (TPCL) – was formed in November 2014. It was decided that in India, the state-owned company GAIL would take over 5% of the capital of TPCL, together with Interstate Gas Systems of Pakistan (ISGS) and Afghan Gas Enterprise (AGE), which will each hold a 5% stake in the project, while Turkmengaz of Turkmenistan will hold a majority stake of 85%.
In April 2016, India and other project shareholders signed a investment agreement with the Asian Development Bank, under which an initial budget of 200 million dollars has been set aside to finance one of the phases of the project.
Other factors such as the price of gas and the existence of such a large amount of gas in Turkmenistan’s fields and its ability to maintain supplies also remain a question, the sources added.
Read also : India and Central Asia form Afghanistan task force, TAPI pipeline back on table
The Taliban have made TAPI a priority
No sooner had the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan than a high-level delegation from Turkmenistan met with senior Taliban leaders in Kabul to discuss the project’s future roadmap in a special meeting that took place held in October 2021.
During the visit, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan R. Meredov held a meeting with Acting Prime Minister of the Taliban regime Mohammad Hasan Akhund, during which it was decided that the TAPI project will receive “special attention”, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan.
Last month, a Taliban delegation led by their acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi flew to Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, to hold TAPI talks.
While the Taliban claimed that the The TAPI project remains a priority and that it will provide security, the group continues to face challenges moving forward as the Afghan economy faces a near collapse. So, Kabul asked Turkmenistan bear all the costs of laying the gas pipeline.
“India will witness a demand for gas”
Rajiv Bhatia, a veteran diplomat and Distinguished Fellow at Gateway House India, believes that Turkmenistan will continue to push for the project as it needs to monetize its energy assets.
“The Taliban are also sorely lacking in money, so they see them as a source of money. Pakistan’s economy is also in a dire state, so they view it with interest. Therefore, the TAPI project will act as the one of the main drivers,” Bhatia said.
“India is now moving closer to the center, but we have no relations with the Taliban and the dialogue with Pakistan is disrupted, so India would only be interested in the project when it is sufficiently assured of its and its security India would continue to remain interested but it will remain very vigilant and alert,” he said.
“With a growing population, our appetite for gas will continue to increase. But commercial, political and security considerations will be taken into account very carefully,” he added.
According to a September 2021 Report by the Atlantic Council, “India could also benefit from a new source of gas, but the prospects are more risky”.
“India will only buy TAPI gas if the landed price exceeds the price India pays for liquefied natural gas. Bilateral hostility may also raise heads. transit charges that Pakistan would collect in supplying gas to India, when any Pakistani government might be tempted to cut gas supply in times of tension,” the report said.
(Editing by Amit Upadhyaya)
Read also : Foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries call on PM Modi