Turkmenistan recently hosted parties to a planned natural gas pipeline that would stretch eastward through territory in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The project, dubbed TAPI, has financial backing from the Asian Development Bank and the support of the U.S. government. The project would provide much-needed relief to downstream consumers in Pakistan and India and serve as a bulwark against Iran's energy ambitions. But given U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's stance on Pakistan, and lingering instability in Afghanistan, it's probable the pipeline will only serve as something of a paper tiger to the Iranian alternative.
Ashgabat hosted regional delegates for the signing of sales agreements for natural through the 1,043-mile TAPI pipeline. It's seen as a rival to a similar project long supported by the Iranian government. India and Pakistan both face looming energy crises given their shortage of natural gas and either one of the projects would serve to allay regional energy security concerns. Washington, however, views the Iranian pipeline option, once termed the Peace Pipeline, as beneficial to a regime that it suspects of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Iranian officials have said they're ready to move forward, but have yet to get the assurances needed from their partners in Islamabad to formally proceed with the pipeline.
The U.S. State Department considers TAPI to be part of what's dubbed the New Silk Road, a project spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said would help integrate the Asian community and "create prosperity across the region." During April meetings with State Department officials, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said TAPI was a "very crucial" project that enjoys the support of the U.S. government.
TAPI, however, is a crucial project as it exists as a diplomatic tool used as an emblem of regional political victories against the Iranians. TAPI would have to cross through both Afghanistan, at war in some form or another since the 1970s, and Pakistan, a U.S. ally of epically fragile proportions. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, during his visit to the region, said Washington was "reaching the limits" of its patience with Pakistan.
Iran has said it's willing to fund the Pakistan section of the natural gas pipeline, claiming the Iranian section as already up to the border. U.S. policy with Iran, however, is so ingrained that regional energy security, and this includes Europe, is side-lined in favour of ensuring Iran doesn't reach the point that it could develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran is unlikely to go that far, though considering the delicate geopolitical balance in the region, it's a valiant concern for the United States. That's not an apologetic observation so much as a statement of pragmatism. Afghanistan, meanwhile, is unlikely to enjoy anything closely resembling a conventional definition of stability any time soon and it's doubtful the al-Qaida problem in Pakistan is going away. It's likely that, for all intents and purposes and given the security woes in Afghanistan, the only reason that Washington and Islamabad are allies is because Washington can't be an ally to Iran. If it were, the energy situation might be different for Asia.
By. Daniel Graeber of Oilprice.com