FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan

Pipelineistan – the prime Eurasian energy chessboard — never sleeps. Recently, it’s Russia that has scored big on all fronts; two monster gas deals sealed with China last year; the launch of Turk Stream replacing South Stream; and the doubling of Nord Stream to Germany.

Now, with the possibility of sanctions on Iran finally vanishing by late 2015/early 2016, all elements will be in place for the revival of one of Pipelineistan’s most spectacular soap operas, which I have been following for years; the competition between the IP (Iran-Pakistan) and TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipelines.

The $7.5-billion IP had hit a wall for years now – a casualty of hardcore geopolitical power play. IP was initially IPI – connected to India; both India and Pakistan badly need Iranian energy. And yet relentless pressure from successive Bush and Obama administrations scared India out of the project. And then sanctions stalled it for good.

Now, Pakistan’s Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi swears IP is a go. The Iranian stretch of the 1,800-kilometer pipeline has already been built. IP originates in the massive South Pars gas fields – the largest in the world – and ends in the Pakistani city of Nawabshah, close to Karachi. The geopolitical significance of this steel umbilical cord linking Iran and Pakistan couldn’t be more graphic.

Enter – who else? – China. Chinese construction companies already started working on the stretch between Nawabshah and the key strategic port of Gwadar, close to the Iranian border.

China is financing the Pakistani stretch of IP. And for a very serious reason; IP, for which Gwadar is a key hub, is essential in a much larger long game; the $46 billion China-Pakistan economic corridor, which will ultimately link Xinjiang to the Persian Gulf via Pakistan. Yes, once again, we’re right into New Silk Road(s) territory.

IP will continue to be swayed by geopolitics. The Japan-based and heavily US-influenced Asian Development Bank (ADB) committed a $30 million loan to help Islamabad build its first LNG terminal. The ADB knows that Iranian natural gas is a much cheaper option for Pakistan compared to LNG imports. And yet the ADB’s agenda is essentially an American agenda; out with IP, and full support to TAPI.And the next step regarding Gwadar will be essential for China’s energy strategy; an IP extension all the way to Xinjiang. That’s a huge logistical challenge, implying the construction of a pipeline parallel to the geology — defying Karakoram highway.

This implies, in the near future, the strong possibility of Pakistan increasingly relying on the China-driven Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIIB) for infrastructure development, and not the ADB.

Recently, the IP field got even more crowded with the arrival of Gazprom. Gazprom also wants to invest in IP – which means Moscow getting closer to Islamabad. That’s part of another key geopolitical gambit; Pakistan being admitted as a full member, alongside India, of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), something that will happen, soon, with  Iran as well. For the moment, Russia-Pakistan collaboration is already evident in an agreement to build a gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore.

Talk to the (new) Mullah

So where do all these movements leave TAPI?

The $10 billion TAPI is a soap opera that stretches all the way back to the first Clinton administration. This is what the US government always wanted from the Taliban; a deal to build a gas pipeline to Pakistan and India bypassing Iran. We all know how it all went horribly downhill.

The death of Mullah Omar – whenever that happened – may be a game changer. Not for the moment, tough, because there is an actual Taliban summer offensive going on, and “reconciliation” talks in Afghanistan have been suspended.

Whatever happens next, all the problems plaguing TAPI remain. Turkmenistan – adept of self-isolation, idiosyncratic and unreliable as long as it’s not dealing with China – is a mystery concerning how much natural gas it really holds (the sixth largest or third largest reserves in the world?)

And the idea of committing billions of dollars to build a pipeline traversing a war zone – from Western Afghanistan to Kandahar, not to mention crossing a Balochistan prone to separatist attacks — is nothing short of sheer lunacy.

Energy majors though, remain in the game. France’s Total seems to be in the lead, with Russian and Chinese companies not far behind. Gazprom’s interest in TAPI is key – because the pipeline, if built, would certainly be connected in the future to others which are part of the massive, former Soviet Union energy grid.

To complicate matters further, there is the fractious relationship between Gazprom and Turkmenistan. Until the recent, spectacular Chinese entrance, Ashgabat depended mostly on Russia to market Turkmen gas, and to a lesser extent, Iran.

As part of a nasty ongoing dispute, Turkmengaz accuses Gazprom of economic exploitation. So what is Plan B? Once again, China. Beijing already buys more than half of all Turkmen gas exports. That flows through the Central Asia-China pipeline; full capacity of 55 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year, only used by half at the moment.

China is already helping Turkmenistan to develop Galkynysh, the second largest gas field in the world after South Pars.

And needless to add, China is as much interested in buying more gas from Turkmenistan – the Pipelineistan way – as from Iran. Pipelineistan fits right into China’s privileged “escape from Malacca” strategy; to buy a maximum of energy as far away from the U.S. Navy as possible.

So Turkmenistan is bound to get closer and closer, energy-wise, to Beijing. That leaves the Turkmen option of supplying the EU in the dust – as much as Brussels has been courting Ashgabat for years.

The EU pipe dream is a Pipelineistan stretch across the Caspian Sea. It won’t happen, because of a number of reasons; the long-running dispute over the Caspian legal status – Is it a lake? Is it a sea? – won’t be solved anytime soon; Russia does not want it; and Turkmenistan does not have enough Pipelineistan infrastructure to ship all that gas from Galkynysh to the Caspian.

Considering all of the above, it’s not hard to identify the real winner of all these interlocking Pipelineistan power plays – way beyond individual countries; deeper Eurasia integration. And so far away from Western interference.

This piece first appeared in Asia Today.

More articles by:

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

January 23, 2019
Michael Doliner
The Pros and Cons of Near Term Human Extinction
Lee Ballinger
Musical Unity
Elliot Sperber
The Ark Builders
January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail