Ashgabat, 1 November 2016 (nCa) — TAPI, the gas pipeline that would connect Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in a unified network, is currently in the streamlining mode.
Streamlining, with all the nuances attached to this description, will remain an active mode throughout the practical implementation of the project. To keep generating adequate steam for self propulsion, the streamlining mode must be driven by clear-eyed pragmatism.
The streamlining here consists of several elements, internal and external, political and financial, practical and essential and just about everything that is called gumption.
As far as internal matters are concerned, the board of directors of the TAPI pipeline company limited, composed of representatives of the participating countries, met in Ashgabat last week.
They made discernible headway on some important issues:
- Regulations on procurement and recruitment
- Review of report on the selection of service contractors as project management consultant, financial services advisor and other services
- Establishment of working group to facilitate the resolution of issues at the company level and preparation of interstate documents for the pipeline infrastructure
This puts the project just one step closer to implementation outside the territory of Turkmenistan. Inside Turkmenistan the construction work is already underway – eight kilometer of pipes are in place by now and design and engineering work is ready for the whole segment from Galkynysh to the border with Afghanistan. The Islamic Development Bank has signed USD 700 million financing document with Turkmenistan for this segment.
The partner countries are in touch and will continue to deal with each bump as they face it.
Meanwhile, another important aspect of streamlining is the integration of several initiatives. Several processes are in motion at different speeds and the results will be awhile to materialize.
The fiber optics link Digital Casa I will link Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Turkmenistan is more than likely to join. With some modifications this network can coincide with the route of TAPI.
The power supply project Casa 1000 envisages the transfer of electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Simultaneously, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan energy network is also in the offing. These two lines can be merged or they can remain separate depends on what is best for the transit territory i.e. Afghanistan. There are suggestions that at least one part of the electrical network should run along the route of TAPI.
The TAT rail (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway line), the first segment of which is scheduled for commissioning on 27 November 2016, has been upgraded to international Asian railway line, potentially linking China on one side and Pakistan on the other side with the railway systems of Central Asia, Russia and onward to Europe.
There are negotiations in the region to fast track the idea of CAREC route 6A which will connect Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan through a world standard motorway.
Even though TAPI is a perfectly viable on its own, the integration of these separate initiatives will greatly enhance the capability and usefulness of the pipeline, turning the whole thing into a conduit of comprehensive connectivity. This is an important part of streamlining.
In addition, there are three other ingredients of streamlining that need to be taken care of:
First, there is the need for all the partners to appreciate that the real or perceived national interests cannot be of universal value i.e. each situation and each combination of partnerships demands fresh interpretation of national interests.
For example, Russia and the USA have diametrically opposed interests in Syria but their interests are almost similar in Afghanistan. Similarly, some countries may be at loggerheads in one situation and they may find it mutually profitable to cooperate in the other.
Second, the US-NATO approach toward Afghanistan is taking a new shape now and their default manner could be to look with suspicion at some connectivity initiatives. For the regional countries, it is important to keep in view that US-NATO cannot be a permanent fixture here but the neighbours are bound by geography to live together with each other. The long term approach should be to find solutions acceptable to all and avoid the urge to inflate avoidable suspicions into insurmountable mountains. The desire for short term political popularity is not a tenable trait. A side note here is that some incidents in Afghanistan claimed by ISIS could possibly be false flag operations.
Third, the global political and economic situation has been going in the wrong direction for quite some time and this trend will continue in the foreseeable future. By logically plotting into the future, we can see that the economic survival will be only in the regional cooperation if not all-round integration. This is the time to build more bridges rather than destroying the existing ones. The region we are talking of here is China, Russia, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India. Together, this region has the potential of long term sustainability, in fact lasting prosperity and stability.
Connectivity is a natural state of things and nature abhors vacuum. The debris on the highway of history is generally those who thought they could defy the force of nature.