China launches bid to undermine trans-Afghan pipeline project

Regional security has been seen as the biggest challenge for the planned trans-Afghan gas pipeline—officially the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project, which would pass the war-torn Afghan provinces of Herat and Kandahar as well as Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province. But recent reports of a rival pipeline project being negotiated between ChinaTurkmenistan and Afghanistan may pose a more fundamental threat to the TAPI. On June 6-8, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperations Organization summit in Beijing, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and China National Petroleum Corporation's (CNPC) head Jiang Jiemin to discuss the proposal. CNPC offered to conduct a technical and economic feasibility study for the proposed project on Afghan and Tajik territories. That the route would avoid the conflicted Pashtun-dominated areas of southern Afghanistan, making the project more attractive for investors. India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses says the Chinese pipeline could undermine the TAPI "akin to the manner in which TAPI played spoiler to the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project." (IDSA, July 31)

The IPI proposal still has some life in it, with Islamabad's Petroleum Ministry ostensibly still committed to it despite having signed on to the TAPI. The Ministry has called a meeting this week to discuss IPI-related offers made by Iran, China and Russia despite ongoing US pressure to drop the project. (The Nation, Pakistan, Aug. 3)

Turkmenistan, holder of the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves, announced last week it will hold "roadshows" in September and October for prospective TAPI investors in New York, London and Singapore. (Reuters, July 28)

Isolated Turkmenistan is in the enviable yet precarious position of being wooed by rival powers for competing pipeline routes. Despite its commitment to the TAPI, Turkmenistan recently inaugurated a new gas pipeline to Iran.

See our last posts the regional pipeline wars and the struggle for control of oil.

pipeline wars

As we've see in Canada and Africa, pipeline wars are the result of how advantage and opportunity breed conflicts for control. In an already unstable environment (i.e. one lacking concerted control) those conflicts will both multiply and escalate. Once resolved, the resulting stability (no matter how inequitable) makes people greatful to the victor no matter what their ultimate losses may be.