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TAPI Pipeline Analysis – Part 5 – India

TAPI is Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline project which is led by state-owned TurkmenGaz of Turkmenistan. TurkmenGaz is leading the consortium to build, own and operate the 1,800 km[1][2] long natural gas pipeline. The planned TAPI gas pipeline will start from Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh[3] gas field that will run through Afghanistan, Pakistan territories and will end at Fazilka, a town in Punjab in northern India. Fazilka is situated near to the India-Pakistan border. Fazilka is connected to Delhi by National Highway 10 that passes through the town. The nearest international airport is in Amritsar which is around 160 km away and the domestic airport in Ludhiana is around 220 km away. Jammu and Kashmir is to the north and Rajasthan is to the southwest of Punjab. Kandla Port in Gujarat is one of the nearest ports to Fazilka which is around 900 km away.[4]

Reference: Asian Development Bank, TAPI Infographic

India is expected to receive 14 billion cubic meters[5] of natural gas per year from Turkmenistan through the TAPI pipeline. But, there is considerable delay in the project due to the security risk it faces in the region of Afghanistan-Pakistan and that may compel India to reconsider its alternative energy projects to meet its rising energy demands. This analysis is drawn from India’s viewpoint which will explore some of the alternatives and factors that might challenge the TAPI project.

The TAPI pipeline project was first conceived[6] in the 1990s well before Taliban captured Kabul in 1996.[7] The negotiation over TAPI was started around 2001 but it was dashed away due to the presence of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.[8] American led military operations in Afghanistan almost consumed a decade. A decade later, between 2010-12, Asian Development Bank signed off project and transit fees were agreed in principle between the countries involved. GAIL (Gas Authority of India Ltd), India’s largest state-owned natural gas processing and distribution company has signed a Gas Sales and Purchase Agreement (GSPA) with TurkmenGaz to import of 38 million metric standard cubic meters per day (mmscmd) of natural gas for 30 years to India. However, this intake may increase depending upon if Afghanistan or Pakistan decrease their intake.[9]

When India joined the project in 2008[10] the initial[11]cost of the TAPI project was projected at $7.6 billion.[12] But in 2015, the estimated cost of the TAPI project is believed to be increased at $9 billion.[13] In 2015, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned that the cost of TAPI could go up to $10 billion due to the delay in implementation. In 2017, It has been reported that Turkmenistan has invested around $25 billion to deliver 3.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day (bcfd). However, $15 billion will be invested in developing the gas field whereas $10 billion will be spent in laying the pipeline.[14] Therefore, delay in the project will likely increase the cost.

Dharmendra Pradhan[15] India’s Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas has stated that 14 billion cubic meters[16] of natural gas per year will be used in power, fertilizer, and city gas sectors. That will enhance the energy security of India as it will diversify the fuel supply need to benefit the Indian economy. A report in 2012 has suggested that after adding transit fees and transportation charges, India will pay $13 per unit for Turkmenistan imported natural gas and will take indirect responsibility for the safe transit of the fuel through high-security risk areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan.[17] In 2015, a report published in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper stated that India will have to pay $200-250 million in transit fees to Pakistan.[18] However, India also has to pay a similar transit fee to Afghanistan and which will likely make the cost of TAPI’s natural gas to India very expensive. Even if the cost is considered at $13 per unit, it is still three times more expensive than the price paid to ONGC and Reliance Industries for producing natural gas from domestic fields.[19] Excessive costs and considerable delay are two of the main reasons which may cause India to withdraw from the project which would threaten the entire TAPI project but fortunately for TAPI’s planners, this has not happened. It is believed that India may have kept its door open to the project for several reasons. First, it is likely that the US pressure may have forced India to consider the TAPI gas pipeline before any other alternative gas pipeline projects. Second, India is playing a greater role in Afghanistan’s development and by withdrawing from the project India could side-line itself in the region. Third, under Connect Central Asia Policy, India aims to get connected with Central Asia which is Eurasia’s heartland and that can be achieved through the Turkmenistan linkage. Fourth, India has to maintain its geostrategic position to counter its neighbours and to reduce China’s influence over its neighbours. Therefore, in combination, India may have to hedge its options carefully rather than withdrawing from the project.

India’s economy has grown since the project has been conceived.[20] In September 2017, Global rating agency Moody has upgraded India’s rating which indicates that once disruption effect of recent reforms fade, growth will rise to 7.5% from 2018-19 and similar robust growth thereafter.[21] Due to continuous economic progress, India’s energy demand has risen. India is the world’s fourth largest energy consumer.[22] India imports 80% of its crude oil and 25% of its natural gas requirements. Its petroleum product consumption has grown from 3.14% to around 163.17 million tonnes in 2014-15.[23] India’s demand for gas is expected to double by 2020-21.[24] It has been reported that India has explored other alternatives to fulfil its rising energy demand such as the Iranian gas pipeline to India. However, it is believed that pressure from Washington on New Delhi in 2008 after US-India Civil Nuclear agreement has choked the Iran-India gas deal.[25] But, on other hand, the US is strongly advocating the TAPI gas pipeline project that supposedly could transform the entire region[26]and that could be another reason, that despite the delay in the TAPI project, India has kept its door open. The TAPI pipeline project has been dubbed as the peace pipeline as it has potential to bring peace along the Durand Line and may become a reason to end state sponsor terrorism in Kashmir by binding Afghanistan-Pakistan-India together that could draw into regional progress and that may lead towards peace. As participation will create economic linkages and likely to encourage a stable relation between rivals. If this assumption becomes successful then it may achieve the impossible that no amount of pressure and persuasion of the US, India, and Afghanistan has been able to take effect on Pakistan so far.

However, analyzing the wider role of the US in South Asia hints that the US may have a bigger motive other than just advocating for regional stability. First, it can be said that by backing the TAPI pipeline project, the US is keeping Iranian and Russian out of interfering, not just into the energy sector of Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, but also from the internal affairs and roping in Turkmenistan. Therefore, the US was so insistent for the gas pipeline from gas-rich Turkmenistan in Central Asia to South Asia via Afghanistan that will bypass Iran. The US intention at the time was to isolate and punish Iran because of its nuclear program and for allegedly supporting terrorism. Second, it will allow Turkmenistan to emerge as an energy competitor with Iran by diversifying its gas export in South Asia and will reduce its dependency on Russia and China. Thus, will reduce Moscow’s influence in the region. If this hypothesis becomes successful then it will significantly affect Iranian gas export to South-Asia and with India’s participation, the US may be anticipating in countering China’s influence in Pakistan. However, China’s CNPC has considerable presence in Turkmenistan’s energy sector and Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh natural gas field is developed by CNPC-led consortium; but not TAPI project.[27]

India’s energy security in Energy Annual Report of 2016-17 dictates to ensure continuous availability of commercial energy at a competitive price to support its economic growth. Keeping the view of vast and increasing energy requirements of the economy, India has taken several initiatives to increase production and exploitation of all domestic resources.[28] However, to supplement the domestic availability of energy, India also has acquired energy assets abroad. As of December 2016, India’s oil and gas companies are present in 25 countries with an investment of nearly US$32.89 billion.[29] One such investment is in Vankorneft and Taas-Yuryakh in Russian oil companies. These suggest that India is continuously exploring other alternatives to meet its energy demand and that may challenge the TAPI pipeline project.

Iran-India deep-water gas pipeline linking Oman is one of the most probable alternative that India may re-consider. India has proposed a 1,300 km[30] long undersea pipeline project at a cost of $4 billion from Iran to India connecting Oman. The proposed pipeline completely bypasses the Pakistani territory and hence will not face the issue of geopolitics and security risk to the gas pipeline. It is believed that the undersea project was considered after Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline faced obstacles in the negotiation of transit pricing, geopolitical issues, and later 2008 Mumbai terror attack in India by Pakistani terrorists that killed at least 174 and injured more than 300.[31] The trans-national deep-water gas pipeline will link Oman and the possibility of Turkmenistan to participate is an option. As many reports doubt the likelihood of the TAPI pipeline ever coming to the fruition due to geopolitical issues between Afghanistan and Pakistan and between Pakistan and India. But, Turkmenistan has more advantage to export gas through Iran-India undersea pipeline then the TAPI pipeline as it will avoid the geopolitical obstacle and security risk and if this is materialized then it may postpone the TAPI project.

Reference: Prepared & adapted from Natural Gas Markets in India.

However, there is an obstacle, that can stop Turkmenistan joining the Iran-India gas pipeline as the Iranian government is likely to lodge a legal case at the International Court of Arbitration against Turkmenistan over a decision to cut off gas supplies to Iran in winter over historical debts payment and can prevent Turkmenistan in joining unless it is resolved. In either case, it is a win-win situation for India as Iran can guarantee uninterrupted gas supply and will avoid paying massive gas transit fees to third countries in comparison to the TAPI pipeline and if Oman joins the project then it will be an additional gain. However, this may not please the US. It is believed that pipeline will carry 31.5 million cubic meters of gas per day and a report published in September 2017 has indicated that the project completion would take two years,[32] that is earlier than the TAPI pipeline project. The recent study on the project has suggested that Iranian pipeline in Oman can be extended to Porbandar in Gujarat, India. The imported Iranian gas will cost between $5 – 5.50 per million British thermal unit which $2 cheaper than LNG imported through ship which costs about $7.50 per mmBtu (million British Thermal Unit), suggest a huge saving of $1 billion annually to India.[33] Moreover, the cost comparison of Iranian gas is considerable cheaper than the TAPI gas supply.

Geographically speaking Iran-India pipeline project can open doors for many other gas suppliers and partners in the Gulf region including Turkmenistan. Strategically, India has developed and completed Iran’s Chabahar Port which is already operational. If Turkmenistan participates in undersea gas pipeline project then it has the option to extend its gas supply pipeline through Iranian soil to Chabahar port, that will allow transportation of gas not just to India but to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is an alternative to the TAPI pipeline. This alternative eliminates the security and territorial obstacles that TAPI pipeline is facing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, Iran’s Chabahar Port is 800 kilometres closer to Afghanistan than Pakistan’s Karachi port and Gwadar Port is in Pakistan’s resistive and unstable province of Balochistan.

Moreover, India observes that Pakistan is playing a role of spoiler in Afghanistan’s development as it does not allow India’s aid or commerce for Kabul to pass through its territory from India to Afghanistan.[34] Hence, to counter this disadvantage in June this year India has started Delhi-Kabul air freight corridor to circumvent it. In October, India via Chabahar port successfully exported its first tranche of 110,000[35] tonnes of wheat from India to land-locked Afghanistan which totally bypassed Pakistan by air and sea routes and made Pakistan’s restriction largely ineffective. However, the biggest nod in this geopolitical game was from the US as it did not object[36] India’s use of Iranian port despite President Trump’s overt hostility towards Iranian leadership, suggest that, Washington is less likely to object to Iran-India deep-water gas pipe as equation in the region has changed since the previous US administrations. Thus, Iran-India gas pipeline is a real challenger to the TAPI gas pipeline.

The second alternative India may re-consider is the Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline project passing through Bangladesh. The project was first believed to be advocated in 1997 since then it has been stalled due disagreements between participating countries. The Myanmar-Bangla-India project is a 1,575-km long gas pipeline from the Shwe gas field (in A-1 block)[37] in Myanmar. India’s ONGC Videsh (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) and GAIL, both has a stake in Shwe field. It is reported that blocks A1 and A3 in Myanmar has discovered a total of GIIP (Gas Initially In Place) of 5.35 tcf (Trillion Cubic Feet) of gas.[38] It has been estimated that Myanmar has 50 million bbl of oil and 283.3 billion cubic meter of natural gas resources. [39] However, no further progress has been reported but the project was re-evaluated in 2015.[40] Although this alternative may have lost the momentum it could become a potential alternative as since Modi has become India’s Prime Minister many of the forgotten projects have been resurrected and during his recent 2017 visit to Nay Pyi Taw, the project was re-evaluated. Nevertheless, a 2520 km gas pipeline from Kyaukphyu to Yunnan Province between Myanmar-China is already under operation since 2013.[41]

Under a third alternative India may re-start gas exploration work near border areas of India-Pakistan that has been suspended for last 25 years. Recently, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan has identified that on a large-scale Pakistan is producing gas from the gas fields adjoining to India-Pakistan border in Jaisalmer area of Rajasthan. Pradhan has stated that as India is not exploring and producing gas in the border areas, the gas reserve from the Indian side is migrating to Pakistan side. Further, many Chinese companies are exploring this hydrocarbon on the other side of India’s border. It has been reported that as many as 2500 Pakistani and Chinese experts are working in exploration and production.[42] Hence, there is a possibility that such exploration can restart as demand for gas in India is expected to double by 2020-21.[43] However, the Modi government has aimed for a 10% reduction of its energy import by 2022.[44] Which suggest that this exploration could become an alternative rather than gas import and as Pradhan has indicated that his Ministry will clear the pending exploration approvals for Thar and Barmer area of Rajasthan signals a strong possibility. In addition, ONGC-Cairn Joint Venture is working on a $700 million project plan to develop and produce gas reserves in Barmer block of Rajasthan.[45]

Although, gas is one of the cleanest fuels with less carbon dioxide for the environment; but historically, India has relied on coal and oil for its energy demand. Hence, India has a high dependency on crude oil imports. In 2015, India imported 20% of its crude oil from Saudi Arabia, making it largest oil supplier and in total 58% of India’s crude oil is imported from the Middle East.[46] Therefore, Saudi Arabia is another alternative and recent developments have suggested that it could become one of the most challenging competitors to other energy suppliers to India. In October, Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil exporter has officially opened its unit in India to pursue opportunities in the energy market with India’s growing need for energy. Aramco office is Gurgaon was inaugurated by Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Aramco CEO Amin Nasser shows the level of Aramco’s influence in India’s energy sector. It is high likely that Aramco presence in India will turn the buyer-supplier relationship into a strategic partnership between India and Saudi Arabia in the hydrocarbon sector (oil and natural gas). Saudi Arabia already accounts for approximately 19% of India’s crude and 29% of LPG imports.[47] Further, Aramco’s subsidiary in India, Aramco Asia India (AAI) is reportedly in talks with to acquire a stake of Rs 40,000 crore in coastal refinery being planned in Maharashtra by an IndianOil-led consortium. It is reported that India’s oil consumption growth is the fastest among all major economies over the next two decades. India will surpass Japan as the world’s third-largest oil consumer and is expected to overtake China. Hence, there is a possibility that Aramco will aggressively pursue opportunities in India that will challenge other energy projects and providers in the energy sector to become India’s top oil and gas supplier.[48]

Not just alternative energy projects but security risks arising from the geopolitics and terrorism also creates a challenge to the TAPI gas pipeline. Geopolitics factor is likely to affect the TAPI pipeline due to the volatile relations between India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s rivalry with India can tempt Pakistan to turn-off transit gas flow to India when tension rises between both countries. This is one of the possible scenarios that may occur in the future as the TAPI consortium leader has not yet confirmed what clear mechanism is in the place that can prevent Pakistan doing so, or there is no absolute guarantee that it will not occur in the future to get political leverage over the Kashmir dispute. Besides, CPEC passing through India’s disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region is likely to increase tension between both countries in the future. Moreover, unconfirmed report has suggested that, TurkmenGaz will export gas at its border, whatever happened afterwards is not their responsibility, if this is true then it raises the concern as to who will be responsible to ensure that gas supply from Turkmenistan to India will be received uninterrupted when there is deep mistrust between India and Pakistan. However, one possible solution suggested is that both countries will work together so that gas transit flow cannot be manipulated for political advantage.

But, in the absence of trust between both countries such mechanisms alone cannot bound elements within Pakistan in interrupting or manipulating the gas flow to India when tension is heightened. Further, if this mechanism is compared with the mechanism to stop ceasefire violations along the Line of Control at Jammu & Kashmir then evidence suggested that, despite existence of having such mechanism to stop ceasefire violations between Pakistan and India, the numbers of ceasefire violations by Pakistan Army has not stopped or decreased; but instead it has increased year by year. According to India’s Home Ministry official, this year alone until September, 600 times Pakistani Army has violated the ceasefire by opening fire on Indian territories. There were nearly 450 recorded ceasefire violations in 2016.[49] According to the Indian Army, ceasefire violations are used by Pakistan Army to cover and push terror groups into Kashmir, to provoke and increase tensions for civilians living in border areas of Jammu. In September over 10,000 people were forced to leave their homes in Jammu sector.[50] Therefore, the geopolitics factor to manipulate gas flow cannot be completely ruled out and disruption in natural gas flow, if intended with malice, can adversely affect India. Further, the Indus Waters Treaty of the 1960s allows river water distribution of the three eastern rivers, the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej to India and three western rivers, the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum to Pakistan. But, the construction of 330 MW Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project[51] by India in North Kashmir at a cost of $889 million[52] was objected by Pakistan that has halted the project until the Hague based International Court of Arbitration allowed and upheld India’s right to construct the project.[53] Hence, the habitual tendency of India’s neighbour to disrupt developments projects suggest that the likelihood of future disruption in the gas flow is possible and that may be cautioning India not to be too enthusiastic and optimistic about the TAPI project.

Reference: Intelligence Fusion, Punjab (India)

Terrorism is another factor that can pose a security risk to the TAPI gas pipeline distribution installation that will be based in the town of Fazilka in Punjab. Fazilka is adjacent to the India-Pakistan border and Jammu and Kashmir is the neighbouring state of Punjab. Jihad in Kashmir is funded by cross-border actors that leads the terrorist groups based in Pakistan to launch terror attacks in the Kashmir Valley and in India. Two of the most recent deadliest attack orchestrated by the cross-border proxy groups in Jammu and Kashmir are Uri and Pathankot attacks on India’s security establishment in 2016. However, these groups also have orchestrated deadly terror attacks in other Indian states such as 2008 Mumbai terror attack in Maharashtra, financial capital of India and 2001 Indian Parliament attack in New Delhi, the heart of India. Out of several proxy terrorist groups operating in the Kashmir Valley, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba has emerged on the top of the list in launching spectacular and deadly attacks in India and the TAPI gas pipeline installation in Fazilka is likely to become a target of attacks. Specifically, when Jaish-e-Mohammed is specialized in such attacks.[54] It is believed that India’s Bombay High an offshore oilfield facility which is 176 km off the Mumbai coast is already on the terrorist’s target list. But, so far terrorists have not succeeded. However, Fazilka on the other hand can become an easy target as it is near to the Indian-Pakistani border. It is relatively near to Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab was the home of the Khalistan movement in the 1970s.

India believes that Pakistani elements were deeply involved in training and arming of Sikh militants at the time. Although, India has contended Khalistan insurgency and groups associated with it has been diminished. But, a handful of such outfits do exist today and operate underground with significant support from overseas and cross-border neighbours. Some of the proscribed groups such as Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) are still clandestinely active in Punjab and in neighbouring states. BKI is one of the oldest and most organized Khalistan terrorist groups. The group activities in Punjab, India are financed from overseas. Reportedly, in the past, the cross-border actor has helped to revive it through Lashkar-e-Toiba. KZF is a proscribed group in India and has its root in Jammu. ISYF is proscribed in India under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which was founded in the United Kingdom[55] and it is believed that it receives cross-border support.

In brief, it can become a deadly nexus of Khalistan affiliated groups providing logistic and financial support to proxy terrorist groups for mutual vengeance and for the cause of Kashmir-Khalistan by targeting Fazilka gas distribution facility in Punjab. Although, such a threat scenario appears to be a distant perspective but if their reconnaissance, planning efforts and their capability are examined in the execution of past attacks then it suggests that likelihood of such attack cannot be completely ignored. Moreover, on the basis of evidence India believes that Pakistani national Masood Azhar the founder and leader of UN-designated terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed was the mastermind[56] of the Pathankot[57] and Indian parliament attacks. He was freed from an Indian prison in Kashmir in exchange of passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 from Nepal that landed in Kandahar in 1999[58] which was believed to be led by his brother with other hijackers. When the aim of a founding terrorist leader is to harm and destroy India at any cost then such terror attack on India’s gas installation near the India-Pakistan border is possible and the TAPI gas pipeline passing though Afghanistan-Pakistan and entering in India can become a prime target to cause maximum damage against India and for media propaganda. Hence, proxy terror groups dreaming of spectacular attack are likely to choose Fazilka gas installation to be blown up in a high profile attack. Moreover, there is possibility that cross border actor can coordinate these two subversive forces to come together in attempt to divert the attention of India’s security forces from Jammu and Kashmir into Punjab. This tactic of diversion can force security resources to get overstretched resulting in simultaneous attacks to bleed India.

Therefore, it can be concluded that India is the world fourth largest energy consumer and as economic growth rises, demand for energy in India has increased and to meet the rising energy demand, India will explore alternative energy projects to diversify and to meet the energy needs. India solely cannot depend on the TAPI gas pipeline project as there is considerable delay since the project was conceived in the 1990s. Further, there is an uncertainty as to when the project will become fully operational. Moreover, payment of transit fees makes the cost of transported gas more expensive. India is likely to expedite its alternative energy projects to diversify its energy and for that, it may re-consider its alternative energy projects to match energy demand with rising economic growth. Some of the alternative energy projects that India has proposed and re-considered are likely to become a contender for the TAPI gas pipeline and one of such challenge to the TAPI project is Iran-India undersea gas pipeline project. Equally, India-Pakistan geopolitics factor is a challenge to the TAPI project and that may be the one of reasons that India does not appear to be too hopeful about the TAPI project. India is also mindful of future political event that can jeopardise the TAPI gas supply passing through Pakistan’s territory as there is no clear mechanism to stop or to avoid such scenarios. In future, risk arising from cross-border terror groups to gas installations in Punjab is real and that could also challenge the TAPI gas pipeline. It appears that India is considering its options carefully.

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[58] Gunaratna, R., Kam, S., (ed.) (2016), Handbook of terrorism in the Asia-Pacific, South Asia, Imperial College Press, p.229



Report written by Gina Laxmicant

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