Friday, 31 August 2012

The TAPI Pipeline: How to use "Public Diplomacy" to dress up a Resource War as a "Regional Infrstructure Project"

It is curious the way that Washington's representatives often try to downplay the role of the TAPI pipeline as a central part of their geopolitical strategy for Afghanistan, as though it had arisen as a welcome initiative from the region only. As if that had nothing intentional in it as part of the USA's foreign policy.

It is true that all the states that stand to benefit from the TAPI pipeline have sought to develop 'energy independence' . What is seldom spelled out is that the independence is from Iran, one that costs far more than the dangers of building a pipeline through a war ravaged Afghanistan.

And that this has been the main strategic goal on the US and NATO in Afghanistan from the outset of war in 2001. Not women's rights. Not human rights. In so far as these were auxiliary humanitarian benefits of a successful war, they were spin offs from "nation building" and that could only be based upon recreating Afghanistan as an energy transit and transport hub.

An article from the Hindustan Times ( TAPI will support energy independence of regional countries: US, August 16 2012 ) that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake commented recently on a trip to Central Asia, 

"We see that the TAPI gas pipeline is particularly important because it's going to join two of the most important end-points in this regional connectivity that we talk about, Turkmenistan and India."

It is important, of course, because it runs through Afghanistan. To use plain English to spell that out, instead of using opaque power jargon about "end points" and "connectivity" , would mean coming to close to the taboo truth: the war in Afghanistan has the completion of the pipeline as a key strategic goal.

Instead of dwelling on the Afghan part of the geopolitical jigsaw, Blake talked up the benefits to the neighbouring state,

"India, of course, has gigantic energy needs because of its fast-growing economy. They need lots of gas. I think that is what really helped drive this project. There is now a real market in India and they can afford to pay for the gas. Turkmenistan has sufficient gas to fuel this pipeline" .

Public Diplomacy requires that when Afghanistan is mentioned in relation to the TAPI pipeline, it is only as an "infrastructure project" or as part of "nation building" or, more poetically, as a "New Silk Route".

"That is also quite important to this vision that I talked earlier about for Afghanistan. So, in terms of the pipeline I think there has been good progress on what they call gas sale-purchase agreements between these countries" .

Again the disinterested tone conceals the extent to which the USA has threatened Pakistan with the dangers of sanctions and reductions in aid if it dares to go against the TAPI pipeline and plump for the cheaper and easier option of Iran's IPI Pipeline. The TAPI Pipeline is a vital interest dressed up as an infrastructure project.

"The next milestone is that there will be a road show that will take place sometime in September, at which they will begin to have concrete discussions about who is going to form and lead this consortium to actually build this pipeline. This is a crucial series of discussions that will take place," he said, adding that the American companies would also be participating in the road show.

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