The previous post "THE GREAT GAME" laid bare the Great Game and the politics of “hydrocarbons”. It is a fact that by proven reserves alone – Russia and Iran control 50% of the world’s gas. And with the new super “kid” on the block – Turkmenistan – the gas equations are set to change forever. What will not change is Asia’s domination on gas – a potential $ 15 trillion and counting business opportunity.
Afghanistan happens to be at the crossroads of gas of Central Asia and warm water ports of Pakistan ( a client state of the USA). The other is Iran – NOT a client state of US.
India has always been a marginal player in the Great Game – because of its gentle giant posturing in the global arena. A part of that image may be changing and I will come to that in a short while.
From the last post on Great Game to now – many things have changed.
China desperately needs Iranian oil and gas, has already clinched a $100 billion gas "deal of the century" with the Iranians.
Mother of All Pipelines -the Turkmen-Kazakh-China Pipeline corridor from eastern Turkmenistan to China's Guangdong province will be the longest and most expensive pipeline in the world, 7,000 kilometers of steel pipe at a staggering cost of $26 billion. When China signed the agreement, they made sure to add a cleveris little geopolitical kicker. The agreement explicitly states that "Chinese interests" will not be "threatened from [Turkmenistan's] territory by third parties." In translation: no Pentagon bases allowed in that country.
This last point – no Pentagon bases – is of immense help to not only China but Russia and India too.
China has immense hunger for hydrocarbons and it will see to it that its legitimate dues are secured in the global stage. Being a weak naval power ‘currently’– it seeks to procure hydrocarbons through the expensive land route.
Where does India fit in?
India had forever talked of IPI (Iran – Pakistan – India) and TAPI (Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan – India) pipeline. In the maps of geography, these pipelines were easy to draw. However in the cauldron of geopolitics – it was anything but so. The pipes were to make past the security and terrorist infested land of Pakistan, the Taliban and its mines in Afghanistan – hence is it any surprise that till date after numerous talks and flip flops on pricing – the pipelines of TAPI and IPI remain where they were before - on maps only.
But that is about to change. No Pakistan did not have a change of heart and neither has Afghanistan become an adobe of peace. Indian planners may have hit the ultimate geopolitical coup.
Before going into details: A look at Iran and Turkmenistan.
Here are the gas grid pipelines in Iran. Look at the northern part – Turkmenistan sits atop. Iran has linked gas pipeline infrastructure to Chabahar port on the southern side.
Turkmenistan has played it best – it has decided to do business with all and not be a client state of any one country.
Turkmenistan has opened a second gas pipeline to Iran, further eroding Russia's historical domination of its energy sector. The new pipeline will eventually more than double Turkmenistan's annual gas exports to Iran to 20bn cubic metres.
IPI pipeline becomes II pipeline and TAPI becomes TII pipeline.
IPI to II: Iran Pakistan India (IPI) gas pipeline becomes Iran India (II) pipeline. The pipeline simply bypasses the landmass of Pakistan and instead takes the undersea route. It might be more expensive – but in real world situations – a clincher of a plausible pipeline. No more will it remain on the maps and India will not be held hostage to Pakistan’s dirty tricks. This will hurt Pakistan majorly in financial terms – but that is least of the worries.
Remember the Chabahar port that India help build (read the previous post). The submersible part of the pipeline will start from the Iranian port city of Chabahar and will deliver gas to consumers in Gujarat in India. The carrying capacity of the gas pipeline’s first leg will total 31 billion cum annually, with the cost of construction estimated at 4 billion dollar.
The Nation, a right wing newspaper aligned to the military wrote in its editorial: “TALKS are going on between Iran and India for the construction of a gas pipeline that would have Arabian sea as its course rather than Pakistan. It would cost $4 billion and would be 1,110km long. The project should jolt Islamabad out of its meek obeisance to Washington’s wishes, and prompt it to actively engage Tehran to finalise the stalled gas pipeline project. It is strange that New Delhi, which is a strategic partner of the US, should be able to disregard its ban and collaborate with Iran in such a venture, that would be highly lucrative for Iran.”
TAPI to TII: This is even a better one. It bypasses two volatile regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan altogether. As of now both Afghanistan and Pakistan are client states of the US. And the US will not be viewing this move of the Indians with pleasure. Given the slap the US has received from Russia and China consistently in the CARs (Central Asian Regions) – this move by India will not go down well.
However, for Indians, this is the only viable option. How does it work?
First : Turkmenistan pumps in the Indian requirement of gas into northern Iran gas grid.
Second: Iran then swaps this Turkmenistan gas pumped into its northern grid, with its own gas into the Southern grid. (Note: No actual gas is flowing from northern grid to the southern grid – swap is a very normal practice in gas and oil sales).
Third: This swapped gas (which is actually Iranian gas = quantity of Turkmen gas pumped into its northern grid) is then pumped by Iran’s southern pipelines to Chahbahar port.
Fourth: Here Indian pipelines take over and through submerged route, receive gas into its Gujarat port – where it is connected to the national grid.
While pipelines for India have become a geo-political reality, it has become a geo-political nightmare for the US. And the US is not known to be an idle bystander as it sees even India slipping from its grasp in this Great Game.
Three news in short that will have serious implications in our region:
1. DEBKAfile's military sources report a decision by the Obama administration to boost US military strength in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf regions in the short term with an extra air and naval strike forces and 6,000 Marine and sea combatants. Carrier Strike Group 10, headed by the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, sails out of the US Navy base at Norfolk, Virginia Friday, May 21. On arrival, it will raise the number of US carriers off Iranian shores to two. Up until now, President Barack Obama kept just one aircraft carrier stationed off the coast of Iran, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea, in pursuit of his policy of diplomatic engagement with Tehran.
For the first time, too, the US force opposite Iran will be joined by a German warship, the frigate FGS Hessen, operating under American command.
2. Tehran reports that an Iranian naval patrol Thursday, May 27, detected a US nuclear submarine sailing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which most of the oil produced by Persian Gulf states passes on its way to world markets. DEBKAfile's Iranian sources report Tehran has placed its navy and army on high alert.
3. The United States recently renewed supplies to the Israeli Air Force of GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs, as well as Attack Munitions (LDJAM) for more accurate targeting of bombs, DEBKAfile's military sources report. The 2,268 kilo (5,000 pound), laser-guided Bomb Unit GBU-28 (nicknamed "Deep Throat") Hard Target Penetrator which can burrow 31 meters into earth or 6.2 meters into reinforced concrete. They can penetrate the stronger Hizballah installations or be used on Iranian nuclear weapons or missile installations, if so decided.
Now that Israel has fired on a flotilla sent by Turkish NGO and killing a few on board that were trying to block the Israeli blockage, the flash point in Middle East just became shorter!
The middle east together with North Korea, puts Asia in a state of turmoil. The attack on Iran, when it comes, will have disastrous consequences for the region.
But India should not waver from its commitment with any regime in Iran to go ahead with the II and TII pipelines.