The recent move to reactivate the stalled gas pipeline deal with Turkmenistan promises to help resolve several domestic energy problems, depending on how long it takes to get the project operational. The proposed 1,800-kilometre pipeline would carry 33 billion cubic metres of natural gas every year from Galkynysh in Turkmenistan — the world’s second-largest gas field — to the Indian border town of Fazilka. Along the way, it will pass along major cities such as Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, and Quetta and Multan in Pakistan. It is expected to cost between $7.5 and $10 billion by the time it is completed.
The TAPI pipeline — named for the four countries it passes through — could significantly increase energy security in India and Pakistan, and could also yield some diplomatic dividends, between New Delhi and Islamabad. However, it could also lead to confrontation for the same reason — trans-European gas pipelines have regularly been used as a threatening bargaining chip in negotiations between several countries. On a related note, despite security assurances from the Afghan Taliban even before they returned to power, Afghanistan’s violent history could lead to constant concerns over pipeline security. Still, under normal circumstances, pipelines are cheaper and more reliable methods of delivering gas, which would be especially beneficial for cash-strapped Pakistan as Islamabad tries to correct our economy.
As domestic gas supplies continue to decline, Pakistan has also become highly dependent on gas shipped in from Qatar to fulfil our need for the fuel, and this dependence is set to increase thanks to upcoming joint ventures to meet increasing demand. While Qatar is a friendly country, it is never a good idea to be so dependent on any single source for a commodity. The TAPI pipeline would also help diversify supply. Depending on the terms of the deal, the ready supply of pipeline gas could also allow Pakistan to make electricity production more cost-effective by continuing to shift away from oil, and somewhat cleaner, since gas is preferable to oil and coal. This would have knock-on benefits for industry as well, as it would reduce operation costs. Commuters would also benefit since CNG vehicle owners may finally be done with the days of shortages and outages due to supply issues.
But let us not get ahead of ourselves. The first TAPI-related deal was signed over 20 years ago, and we still do not have a concrete completion date. Who knows when the gas will actually become available?
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2023.