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Latha Jishnu: Two pipelines too far

Latha Jishnu  |  New Delhi 

Playing the Great Game calls for grit, sound calculations and a determination to win at all costs. More so, when spiralling energy prices make a mockery of energy security for countries that are heavily dependent on imports. India is. It already imports 70 of its energy requirements and with the economy growing at approximately eight percent, the figure is expected to increase to as much as 90 percent in the next two decades. Yet, India plays the energy game with a strange mixture of pusillanimity and a bravado that verges on the imprudent.

Nothing exemplifies this better than two major initiatives India took recently. First, it signed up for the Turkmenistan gas pipeline after watching from the sidelines for well over a decade and resisting all inducements to join it, even the blandishments of the US. Then, within days it went out of its way to lionise Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad during a stopover in Delhi, making it appear that the hoarier Iran-Pakistan India (IPI) pipeline was back on the agenda. But only seemingly so since the government has been sending out clear signals thereafter that it considers the IPI pipeline too risky at this juncture.

Far more significant is India's decision to throw its weight behind the Turkmenistan pipeline that is plagued by a host of uncertainties, not least the adequacy of supplies. The 1,680-km line that will snake its way from the Dauletabad gas field in the central Asian country, cut across Afghanistan and Pakistan, taking in Herat, Kandahar and Multan before reaching Fazilka on the Indian border. Called TAPI as an acronym for the names of the countries it crisscrosses, this pipeline is better known in the West as the Trans Afghan Pipeline because close to half its length (830 km) lies in war-torn Afghanistan; just 170 km of this audacious venture will lie in Turkmenistan.

This is undoubtedly a pipeline that will call for more than the usual guts demanded of those who play the Great Game. TAPI, much more than IPI, straddles the most volatile region in the world. About 47,000 troops, primarily US and British, are fighting the Taliban forces in Afghanistan where an increasing number of suicide bombings have added to the mayhem. The latest reports say the US intends to increase its troops and firepower in the embattled country.

It was surprising, therefore, that Delhi plumped for the TAPI project with very little discussion on its merits. Announcing the agreement, Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dinsha Patel gave some sketchy details of what India expects to gain from the $ 7.6 billion pipeline

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First Published: Sat, May 31 2008. 00:00 IST
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