The TAPI Pipeline Project Takes A Hit As Hamid Karzai Snarls At The West
In a couple of earlier posts (here and here) on this blog I’ve mentioned the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which is supposed to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan to the three other countries involved. At the moment, the pipeline is still just a gleam in the eye of fossil fuel executives and American geopolitical strategists, who are interested because a functioning TAPI pipeline would make it unnecessary for India and Pakistan to consider buying natural gas from Iran instead. The TAPI project is the focus of much irresponsible conspiracy-mongering, which tends to revolve around the implausible idea that TAPI is the sole reason for America’s interest in Afghanistan.
In wilder versions, TAPI is considered to be so important to the United States that the American government allowed, orchestrated or even carried out the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center solely to provide an excuse to invade Afghanistan and build the damn pipeline. Ridiculous as this is, I have no trouble believing that the possibility of bringing TAPI to fruition makes America more interested in stabilising and dominating Afghanistan than might otherwise be the case.
Gas pipelines are strategically important, and an Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline could make a big difference to the Iranian economy while also creating a basis for cooperation between the three countries involved. If Pakistan and India become dependent on Iran for their energy needs, they’re unlikely to support sanctions or military strikes against Iran in the future. America’s desire to keep Iran poor, weak and isolated, at least until a more US-friendly and Israel-friendly regime comes to power, provides plenty of motivation for hating IPI and putting significant resources into TAPI as an alternative. It is likely that only one of the two pipelines will ever be built. But which?
A couple of weeks ago, Iran and Pakistan took a big step towards making IPI into a reality. Representatives of the two countries met in Turkey in mid-March to sign an agreement to build a pipeline from the South Fars (also spelled South Pars) gas field in Iran to Balochistan and Sindh provinces in Pakistan. The line is supposed to become operational by 2015, and will provide 750 million cubic feet per day (I suppose this is probably a standard unit in the industry, even in this metric age) of natural gas to Pakistan. At this stage India is not involved, but there is a possibility that the pipeline could be extended to India in the future.
A lot could go wrong between now and 2015, but on the face of things this represents a tentative victory for the Iranian government and a blow to America’s efforts to isolate Iran. It would be interesting to know whether America tried to prevent the Pakistani government from signing the deal and failed, or whether Barack Obama’s administration has simply given up at least partially on the idea of promoting TAPI and blocking IPI. However, as explained in this thoughtful analysis (written last year, well before the most recent deal between Iran and Pakistan was signed), the stakes surrounding the project are very high. Even if the pipeline never reaches India, gas could potentially be moved to China either through an extension of the pipeline to the northeast or in liquefied form on ships.
Iran may also be gaining influence in Afghanistan, if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to Kabul is any indication. During a joint news conference with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, Ahmadinejad declared that Western forces in Afghanistan were not “a solution for peace”. This more or less coincided with a burst of anti-Western and particularly anti-American rhetoric from Karzai himself. Karzai has recently, and bizarrely, accused Western powers of perpetrating fraud during last year’s presidential elections, which he of course won in somewhat dubious fashion. An interesting report in the New York Times claims that Karzai expressed a more general distrust of the United States at a lunch with “about two dozen prominent Afghan media and business figures”:
Mr. Karzai said that, left alone, he could strike a deal with the Taliban, but that the United States refuses to allow him. The American goal, he said, was to keep the Afghan conflict going, and thereby allow American troops to stay in the country.
If this is really an accurate description of Karzai’s position, Canadians should hope that he can strike his deal and bring the conflict to an end, provided the “deal” he has in mind doesn’t allow too much room for re-infiltration of Afghanistan by al-Qaeda and like-minded groups. Whatever America may want to do, we have no reason to want to keep our troops in the country any longer than necessary, and it would be highly satisfying if we could depart on schedule next year with a credible peace in place.