Construction of the long overdue contentious TAPI pipeline recently began its first phase in Pakistan.
A project conceived in early 90’s spearheaded by Unocal and other prominent US companies– was meant to originate from one of the largest gas field in the world– Galkynysh– in Turkmenistan and terminate its path in India.
The project was viewed as integrating Central Asia’s vast energy supplies with the energy hungry South Asia.
However, suspicions of hegemonic agendas have kept the project in doldrums.
At the time, when the project was carved- Russian influence of Central Asian gas supplies was viewed as a potential threat; as Russia for a long period denied access to foreign companies to utilize the existing routes, adding on to that concern– a falling out between the US companies and Taliban from 98 onwards led to a deadlock on TAPI progress — efforts only resumed post 2008.
In this duration, China’s rise and quest for strong ties with Central Asia for stable energy routes added another dynamic to the clashing agendas.
However, significant changes appear to have taken place in the recent past– which seem to have reshaped the concept of TAPI.
In 2010-Russia began softening it stance towards TAPI project- in the wake of possibilities of improved ties with US and initiation of energy based projects with US-Asian allies. Further, the North-South transport corridor witnessed hiccups owing to Iran sanctions; this also led to Russia exploring possibilities of providing energy supplies to energy hungry India and Pakistan via the TAPI route.
Cooperation between Turkmenistan and Russia also witnessed an increase– up until early 2016 when a financial dispute erupted between Turkmen government and Russia; causing Russian firms to sideline themselves. China which remains another important stakeholder in the Turkmen energy sector, also began witnessing certain hiccups over payment reservations. Owing to massive development funding debts; a large portion of Turkmenistan’s revenue is allocated for repayments. Turkmenistan is also said to be experiencing a low point economic crises.
The changes related to Turkmenistan re-invigorated the push for TAPI; when the members of the alternate silk road offered a massive funding towards completion of funding.
However, the current regional dynamics appear to have– in a way– subdued threats of absolute hegemonic agendas and instead if various delicate balances are managed–TAPI could prove as a true pipeline for peace.
The fact that a massive portion directed towards TAPI’s funding is US+ allies(like Japan) backed– this would continue to provide US companies with opportunities in Central Asian energy.
Secondly, China appears to be disinterested in possible economic threats stemming from India– once this route is established; because in hindsight China maintains deep links within the TAPI chain– namely with Turkmenistan and Pakistan– in a sense making it a possible beneficiary of the route. Alongside it has also whipped out multiple other networks thereby disallowing any single point to control its fate.
Though Russia’s direction is more westward– it has actively been trying to reach Far East and South. Russia’s utility from TAPI remains to be seen.
In conclusion : For Pakistan– specifically– TAPI appears to be a positive step towards a possible thawing of ties with India and Afghanistan while creating space to realign with US.
Given China’s current position; it is likely for it to try to work with the project.
The challenges for Pakistan could pronounce themselves in the form of Russia and Iran’s take on the pipeline. In case, Russia decides to utilize alternate routes to connect its Central Asian allies to the South– Pakistan would have to look into those prospects– for diversifying energy sources.
Similarly, one report suggests that Pakistan has been asked to reconsider the Iran- Pakistan gas pipeline; but keeping in view the recent strides towards regional connectivity– Pakistan would have to work with a delicate balance in this area.