A very nice article by the Diplomat, titled “Modi in Central Asia: Goodbye TAPI, Hello TII?”, July 2015. The article refers to the Indian Prime Minister’s travel to Turkmenistan, and to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline (TAPI), which has been promoted by India and the USA during the last quite a few years. For a very rough sketch of TAPI see the red line on the following map. It seems that the Indians are a bit tired of waiting TAPI. The construction of the pipeline is very difficult because the pipeline will have to cross Afghanistan and pass through the Talibans before reaching India.
The Indian Prime Minister said that after a deal was reached for Iran’s nuclear program, an alternative to TAPI should be considered, and more specifically the TII solution (Turkmenistan-Iran-Pakistan-India). India would like to avoid Pakistan, her great opponent, and in the past Iran and India examined the possibility of the Iran-Oman-India Pipeline. See yellow line on the map. However even this pipeline would have to pass through the Exclusive Economic Zone of Pakistan, in order to be economically viable. Therefore it seems that only through Pakistan a pipeline can reach India. The other option would be a pipeline from Russia and China, but that would involve China i.e. India’s other great rival. See purple line on the map.
India has of course the option of building LNG plants in order to receive liquefied natural gas and convert it to its original form. There are already LNG plants at India’s coasts, but LNG has two disadvantages. The first one is that it costs a lot more, and the second is that in case of a war, a rival’s navy can block energy supplies.
China on the other hand, is promoting the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, and at the same time she is promoting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Therefore China will be able to receive Iranian oil and natural gas through her two allies, Iran and Pakistan, without India interfering at all. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a network of roads, railways and pipelines that will be constructed by Pakistan and China, and it will be mainly financed by China. The CPEC involves over 40 billion dollars investments. For a very good article about the energy game between China and India you can read the Diplomats “Modi and the Sino-Indian Game for Iranian Gas”, July 2015. See following link.
The first article that I mentioned wonders whether the TII pipeline solution, as proposed by India, will also meet the US geopolitical objectives, so that the Americans can support it too. The Diplomat mentions that theoretically speaking the TAPI is not dead, but it also says that the TII might be born from TAPI’s ashes. Even though I do not know whether TAPI is dead for good, I know for sure that the Americans will not be very happy with Turkmenistan-Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline. They might accept it in the end, but for the Americans the TII is not a replacement for the TAPI. I say that after taking into account what the Americans expect from Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural gas reserves. It is the 4th richest country, as you can see at the following Wikipedia link.
Some other measurements show Turkmenistan in the 6th place, as you can see in the following table of the Energy Information Administration. I believe the difference arises when shale gas is also taken into account, but I am not sure. What is important though is that Turkmenistan is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural gas reserves.
For the time being Turkmenistan is tied to China, which is the main buyer of Turkmen gas. The only other solution for Turkmenistan is Russia. Turkmenistan can export its gas to Europe through Russia, but Russia is for Turkmenistan a competitor, and a lot should be paid to Russia in terms of transit fees and commissions. Therefore both the United States and Turkmenistan would like to find another export route for the Turkmen gas. Turkmenistan wants that in order not to rely completely on China, which will allow it to get better prices, and the Americans want that because they do not want such a rich country in natural gas to be totally controlled by China.
Turkmenistan has two choices. The first one is through the Trans-Caspian pipeline, the blue line on the map, which will allow Turkmenistan to export its natural gas to Europe through Turkey, and the other is the TAPI pipeline, which will allow Turkmenistan to export its gas to Asia. At the following map you can see the two options that the Americans have in order to send the Turkmen gas to Europe and Asia, avoiding Russia, Iran and China. The available routes are between the black lines.
Therefore the Iran solution is not the best one, given that Iran is a geopolitical rival for the US, and a commercial rival for Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan would prefer not to count on Iran for one more reason i.e. to avoid paying transit fees. For Iran however this would be a good deal, because it would prevent Turkmen gas to flow to Asia on its own, competing Iran. Also note that Iran and Russia are blocking the Trans-Caspian pipeline, which could send Turkmen gas to Europe.
The Americans recently reached a deal with the Iranians, about Iran’s nuclear program. But that does not mean that the Americans and the Iranians suddenly became best friends. The Americans need the Iranians, in order to supply their allies in Europe through the Southern Energy Corridor i.e. through Turkey. The Americans also needed to make an agreement with Iran, because if Iran’s oil and natural gas comes to the market, the prices of oil and natural gas will be pushed downwards, which is a very good thing for the big importers of oil and natural gas i.e. USA, Europe and China. But the fact that the Americans need the Iranians does not mean that the deal will work out perfectly. Only time will tell.
Therefore the pipeline proposed by India i.e. the TII, is not really a replacement for the TAPI pipeline, as far as the Americans are concerned. For India on the other hand, a traditional Russian ally, and a country which has very good relations with Iran, the TII is a very good alternative to the TAPI one. India is a traditional Russian ally, but recently, due to her rivalry with China, she improved relations with the US as well. That’s why India did not want to push for a solution that involved Iran, as is the case with the TII pipeline. But now the Americans have reached a deal with the Iranians. The Americans do not like the Iranians, but that does not change the fact that they reached a deal with them. Therefore it is very reasonable for India to promote a solution that also involves Iran. After all, for how many more years can India wait for the TAPI pipeline?
On the other hand, for the Americans the TAPI pipeline is good for one more reason. TAPI would stitch together Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that would be a very positive thing for NATO. One should not forget that the Taliban have been traditionally supported by the Saudis and the Pakistanis. Recently, because the TAPI pipeline also hurts the Iranian interests, the Iranians have been supporting the Taliban too, even though the Talibans have been a traditional Iranian rival. But today both the Arabs and the Iranians want to block the TAPI pipeline. If the TAPI was constructed, the Pakistanis would have a motive to help the US and not the Saudis and the Iranians in Afghanistan. That’s why the Diplomat says that with the TAPI the Americans want to “stitch” Afghanistan in Central Asia.
But the TAPI seems to be a very difficult project for the US. After all the Americans sent their army for almost 10 years in Afghanistan. If they did not manage to get rid of the Talibans during that time, how on earth are they ever going to make it? A pipeline network that runs through a country partially controlled by terrorists, as is the case with Afghanistan, is condemned to be always full of holes. With the Arabs and the Iranians being united against TAPI, the Indian proposal might seem to be the only realistic one. It remains to be seen whether the Americans will give up on the TAPI pipeline or not, which will heavily depend on how things between the Americans and the Iranians turn out.
For the first article of the Diplomat that I mention see:
“Modi in Central Asia: Goodbye TAPI, Hello TII?”, Ιούλιος 2015
For the Iranian support to the Talibans see the following Wall Street Journal article, titled “Iran Backs Taliban With Cash and Arms”, June 2015.