Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Pipe Dream That Never Dies: Afghanistan.

An interesting piece here appeared in Pakistan's Dawn.Com ( The Trans-Afghan Pipe Dream that Won't Die )

"The idea of a 1,700-km pipeline from Turkmenistan to India, known as TAPI, isn’t new. In the mid-1990s, Afghanistan’s then-rulers, the Taliban, talked to an American energy firm about building it. Almost 15 years and no gas later, the Taliban have been kicked out of power, thousands have been killed in Afghanistan during the US-led war, and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is one of the most dangerous areas in the world — but the pipeline dream won’t die.“Without peace and stability in Afghanistan, the pipeline may become only a pipedream,” said Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra".

Violence is at its worst since 2001, according to the United Nations. Foreign forces have already started a security handover in parts of the country, ahead of a full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. Some fear that when they go, full-scale civil war could break out.

“People are talking about pipelines, roads and railways, and these are all very vulnerable,” said Thomas Ruttig, a co-director with Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul.

Afghan officials have pledged security forces, and talk about burying part of the pipeline underground, but even then it would still snake through the Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar in the south of Afghanistan.

“The pipeline is very long and very difficult to defend — you can’t put a soldier every 20 metres,” Ruttig said.

The Asian Development Bank earlier this year approved around half a million dollars to pay for consultancy and meetings on the project, but when asked at the end of October, it was no longer talking about TAPI.

According to the Afghan Ministry of Mines, the pipeline would pump 33 billion cubic metres a year from the South Iolotan field in Turkmenistan to Fazilka in India, crossing 735 kilometres of Afghan territory, then 800 kilometres in Pakistan.

Between problematic and impossible.

Getting Pakistan and India to agree on anything is tough.

Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought three wars against each other since their independence from Britain in 1947, are prickly enough to scuttle the project without any help from the Taliban.

“Two of the major stakeholders in TAPI, India and Pakistan, have major differences including security and transit fee, and more importantly, trust,” Mahapatra said.

Energy experts aren’t holding their breath.

“It works economically and is even quite attractive. Needless to say, from the political side, it is somewhere between highly problematic and impossible,” said Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in Britain.

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