Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) Pipeline – A Brief History


Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline or TAPI project has its genesis in 1990s when the newly independent Turkmenistan started looking for customers for its oil and gas reserves.

The governments of Pakistan and Turkmenistan agreed on the proposal of a pipeline that would transfer natural gas to Pakistan. This agreement took place in 1995. Similar to other high stake-high return international projects, this was heavily promoted by international oil and gas exploration companies. In this case, it was the US firm Unocal.

The project was seen as a great achievement of the newly independent Central Asian states. With the help of the elder brother, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and assisted by the US, the vision of a complex of pipelines crisscrossing the entire central Asian and lower regions was imagined.

However, in order to get the gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, the pipeline has to go through Afghanistan. This was a bit of a downer because Afghanistan was then rules by Taliban, a vicious band of barbarians that stood against the noble ideas of democracy, human rights and justice. Also they were considered the Enemy of Freedom Loving People.

Some very sharp and under the table maneuvering was required and this was exactly what happened. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Robert Oakley retired in 1991. He joined the relatively unknown Central Asia Gas Pipeline, a company that was setup to actually setup and run the TAPI project. This happened in 1997 and in 1998, Taliban in a surprise move decided to let the whole thing proceed through their occupied territories.

All smiles at the MOU signing

All smiles at the MOU signing

Then 9/11 happened and the world was changed forever. The entire project was put in a deep freeze as enemies became friends and friends became the new enemies.

The entire project was doomed to be buried deep in bureaucratic compost pile. However, it happened that the region was going through severe energy shortages and there was no fix to the problem in sight. Someone somewhere remembered the long forgotten TAPI idea and dusted off the agreements.

In 2008, the former participants of the agreements, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India met to discuss the whole thing from scratch. The result was the birth of a framework that took two whole years to be acceptable to the three countries.

Despite this, the three countries have been in disagreement over several key issues namely transit fees, contact points and transfer infrastructure. India and Afghanistan in particular have fallen out of the deal because of these disagreements.

The current status of the project can be summed up in one word: Unsure. The project has been reduced to a minor pipeline between Pakistan and Iran. There is no infrastructure or budget allocation by any of the participants. Indeed Iran-Pakistan pipeline is a separate project that is not funded by the monetary allocations of TAPI.

For Pakistan, in particular, the need for power overrides the fear of international sanctions. The recent flurry in Iran-Pakistan Pipeline is not without cause. Pakistan needs a source of power to drive its power generation sector. Even if its partners squabble over who will get how much of the pie, Pakistan is (and MUST!) go ahead with its deal with Iran.

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