The Planned TAPI Pipeline Through Afghanistan: Implications for Canada
In a previous post I discussed a brief Toronto Star article and much longer report (PDF here) by John Foster, who argues that America plans to turn Afghanistan into an “energy bridge” by helping to build a natural gas pipeline across it. The pipeline, called TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) would carry Turkmen gas through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India, with all three countries drawing supplies proportionate to their needs. America likes the idea because the TAPI pipeline would supplant a rival proposal to pipe Iranian gas to Pakistan and India.
But what are the ramifications for Canada? Foster starts off with the observation that Canadians have been curiously oblivious to the whole issue:
The New Great Game in Central Asia is a geopolitical game among the world’s Great Powers for control of energy resources. The geopolitical game is openly analyzed in U.S. think tanks… It is well reported in the Asian press. It is hardly visible in Canada.
Greater visibility and more public discussion would certainly be nice. As a starting point, some Canadians would probably endorse the US objective of isolating Iran, but many others (including yours truly) simply don’t regard Iran as an enemy. Leaving aside this dubious rationale for supporting TAPI, what are the other implications?
Foster mentions the possibility that Canadian companies might get construction contracts when it’s time to actually build the pipeline, although he doubts that our firms would want to work in such an insecure environment. In his view, a more important consideration is that Canadians might get drawn into protecting the pipeline, especially since it would run through Kandahar Province where our troops are deployed.
However, Foster’s report was published in June 2008, well before the surge of US troops into Afghanistan. Thousands of them are now in Kandahar, whereas our military presence is supposed to end in 2011. By the time there’s a pipeline for the Taliban to sabotage, our fighting days in Afghanistan may be over. Even should we choose to extend the mission in some form, we’ll have some American backup in Kandahar.
It’s also worth remembering that a large part of the Taliban’s motivation for attacking the pipeline would be its value to the Afghan government. Foster mentions a study suggesting that “transit fees” (which I assume means money paid to Afghanistan by the other TAPI governments for the privilege of transporting gas through Afghan territory) could amount to $160 million (US?) per year. This may sound like pocket change by the standards of Canadian federal budgets, but it would be an enormous contribution to Afghanistan’s economy.
TAPI would be bad for Iran, which is a genuine shame, and it might someday get Canadian troops into a few more firefights. But handled properly, it would be very good for Afghanistan, a country we would like to see succeed. Perhaps that’s an adequate reason for Canadians to welcome TAPI – but the main thing is to be aware that the New Great Game is afoot.