TAPI and Turkmenistan’s Natural Gas
Though the former Soviet republic remains diplomatically aloof, it gladly cooperates with foreign governments and companies to export its gas. Besides courting India and Pakistan, which would receive 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas from TAPI yearly, it has also attracted interest from Bangladesh. The European Union is considering Turkmen energy imports as well because it hopes to reduce dependency on Russia, which has occasionally withheld gas during disputes with Ukraine over pipeline ownership. The proposed Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline would bypass Ukraine and Russia, bringing Europe gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Turkmenistan already exports gas to China via the Central Asia-China pipeline and may more than double deliveries to 65 bcm to meet its trading partner’s growing energy demands.
For all its economic potential, Turkmenistan continues to have major political problems. The previous president not only aggressively quashed political opposition but also created an extravagant personality cult. Having adopted the title Türkmenbaşy (“leader of all Turkmen”), President Saparmurat Niyazov erected large golden effigies of himself across the country and promoted his autobiography Ruhnama as the nation’s spiritual guide. The current president, who is one of the pipeline’s greatest proponents, may be trying to create a personality cult of his own.
Though the United States has openly objected to the country’s human rights abuses and lack of democratic institutions, it has also shown interest in developing Turkmenistan’s natural resources and supporting the TAPI pipeline project. America’s government is concerned that Pakistan will satisfy its energy needs with natural gas from Iran, which has begun construction on its own pipeline to Pakistan and India, if the TAPI project is further delayed. As the United States has had decades-long diplomatic tensions with Iran, it finds Turkmenistan a preferable alternative energy source for Pakistan.
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