United States of America (USA) and Russia appear to be competitor in Central Asia to gain influence.USA has been supporting Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline project to capture market of South Asia. Russia has been traditional buyer of Turkmen gas and has been selling it European countries.
This is gas politics which would determine geopolitical situation in Central and South Asia. Pakistan had been working on Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project and even groundbreaking was held during regime of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP).However, both USA and Saudi Arabia had lobbied in Pakistan during regime of PML-N government to shelve IP gas pipeline project. Both anti-Iran countries succeeded and Pakistan shelve LNG Gwadar pipeline project which was an alternate plant and was to be connected to Iranian border after lifting sanctions by USA.
After IP gas pipeline is dumped, Russia who holds major gas reserves in Iran, has started lobbying to build offshore gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and then India. This gas pipeline appears to be a rival project to TAPI gas pipeline project. This move has been started after Pakistan and US face cold relations due to policy of Donald Trump on Afghanistan where he signaled to give leading role to India in this region.
Russia has expressed interest to lay offshore pipeline to India that will pass through Iran and Pakistani Sea. According to officials, Russia was aggressively pursuing this project which raised alarms in Turkmenistan and USA. Russia appears to be a competitor with Turkmenistan by laying offshore gas pipeline project. Turkmenistan also felt that Russia was trying to sabotage TAPI gas pipeline project. This is reason that Turkmenistan had presented a revised plan of implementing TAPI gas pipeline project. Earlier, the project was to be completed in 2020 but now officials believed that project would be completed in early 2019.
Offshore pipeline deal
According to officials, Russia had approached Pakistan to sign government to government deal on offshore gas pipeline which would reach India. They said that Russian firm Gazprom top officials had also visited Pakistan and also offered to lay North South LNG pipeline from Karachi to Lahore. They said that Russia was also in a hurry to build offshore pipeline and also offered Pakistan to export gas through offshore pipeline to meet requirement of Pakistan.
However, officials said that there were concerns in Pakistan authorities as this pipeline would pass through Iran and India. They said that Russia would sabotage TAPI gas pipeline project which was also in advance stage. This project was being backed by USA that wanted to neutralize the influence of Russia in this region. Further, US lobby has been active in Pakistan as government believed that Russia would create monopoly in gas sector in Pakistan and in this region which would also involve Iran and India.
There are other reasons as well. The offshore project proposed by Russia involved Iran and India. This means that India and Iran were part of this project. Pakistan had already failed to implement Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline due to pressure of sanctions imposed by United States (US).This project involved Iran and therefore, Pakistan would face pressure of Saudi Arabia and US in implementing offshore gas pipeline project. This project also involved India and Pakistan did not have good diplomatic relations with India. Russia had faced problems in laying onshore gas pipeline and switched to laying offshore pipeline which would ensure presence of Russian in Arabian Sea. In such scenario Pakistan was not in a position to become part of this project at present.
Despite these concerns, Pakistan and Russia have reached understanding to sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to implement offshore gas pipeline project. After this deal, feasibility study would be conducted and Russia would finance this study to examine viability of the project.
TAPI pipeline project implementation plan
A meeting on TAPI gas pipeline project was held in Dubai which all member countries had participated. During meeting, Turkmenistan has presented a new plan of implementing TAPI gas pipeline project. Under revised plan, Turkmenistan had offered to give first free flow of gas to participating countries. Under this plan, Turkmenistan will complete phase of Afghanistan pipeline project and then will start flow of gas. Then, it will complete portion of Pakistan pipeline project and then will start flow of gas. Then it will complete portion of India pipeline project and then start flow of gas. Under this plan, Afghanistan will get gas as soon as pipeline in Afghanistan is completed. Pakistan will get gas as soon as portion of Pakistan,s pipeline project is completed. Under this plan, project will be completed in one and half year. According to original plan, the pipeline was to be laid in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and compressors were also to be laid in these countries before starting flow of gas from Turkmenistan. However, now revised plan to implement project was ready which would help completing project in short time. All participating countries had agreed with this plan and would be tabled before upcoming steering committee on TAPI pipeline project for approval.
Turkmenistan has allocated $2 to $2.5 billion funds from its own resources to complete project within shortest possible time. This money would be spent on laying pipeline in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
A senior official said that normally pipeline needs compressors to push flow of gas. However, under this plan, 56 inch of diameters gas pipeline will be laid which had capacity to flow gas without compressors. Under this plan, Turkmenistan had worked out that one third gas could be flowed in 56 inch diameters pipeline without installing compressors. Officials said that pipeline would be laid first without compressors and Turkmenistan would start pumping one third gas to Afghanistan, then Pakistan and then India. It means that pipeline in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would be built without compressors. Officials said that Turkmenistan had started work on this plan.
The work on portion of Afghanistan would be started in February 2018 and in Pakistan in March 2018.This pipeline would be completed by end of 2019.In this way, participating countries would start receiving gas as soon as pipeline is built. In 2020, compressors would be installed on pipeline which had already been built for full flow of gas.
Officials said that Turkmenistan had given contract of pipeline in Turkmenistan to Chinese company. But Turkmenistan and Chinese company had entered into dispute and therefore, Turkmenistan was now in talks with European companies which would also extend financing for the pipeline.
Turkmenistan government has been in secret contact with Afghan Taliban to seek security of TAPI gas pipeline project. Officials said that foreign minister of Turkmenistan had also visited Kabul to meet Afghan Taliban.
According to media reports, Turkmenistan had made several attempts to mediate a secret deal between the United States and Afghan Taliban’s ‘moderate leaders’ but most Taliban leaders were reluctant to accept a secret deal. The ISIS is aiming to crush Afghan Taliban and working in close collaboration with anti-Pakistan militant groups such as Jamaat al Ahraar, TTP and a newly created NDS-backed Ansar el Shaaria group. Turkmenistan officials have approached two Taliban representatives in Doha and Qatar inviting them to visit Ashgabat and meet ‘US officials”. The US Secretary of State during his Afghanistan, Pakistan and India visit disclosed that some “moderate Taliban” were seeking a negotiated deal with Afghan Government.