India, Turkmenistan decide to fast-track TAPI, sign defence pact

India and Turkmenistan, the energy-rich Central Asian nation, have decided to fast-track the implementation of the long discussed TAPI pipeline, which is poised to have a transformational impact on economic relations between the two countries as well as the region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian leader to visit Turkmenistan after a gap of two decades as he touched down in the capital Ashgabat on July 10. P.V Narasimha Rao was the last Indian prime minister to visit Turkmenistan.

Energising Ties

Prime Minister Modi and President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov held wide-ranging talks, which have energised bilateral ties across the spectrum. The showpiece outcome held at Ashgabat on July 11 was clearly the decision by the two sides to move ahead with the TAPI project, along with plans to finalize the consortium leader. “The Leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment towards timely implementation of this strategic project for the common benefit of peoples of the four countries and noted that the selection of the Consortium Leader for the project, to be finalized by 1 September 2015, would mark a crucial step in the early implementation of the project,” said the joint statement. The joint statement aptly described TAPI as “a key milestone in the relationship between both countries.”

The fixing of the deadline for the finalization of the consortium leader underlines that the pipeline project, which looked like a pipedream, is now moving on fast track. India is expected to be the consortium leader. If all goes well, TAPI could become the lifeline of the region and could even become operational by the deadline set for 2018. Some analysts point out that the pipeline cannot be completed before 2020 as there are still formidable challenges on the way. The pipeline project is shadowed by serious security concerns, given that the pipeline would pass through areas that are targeted by militants of different stripes. Besides TAPI, India and Turkmenistan firmed up a template for long-term energy partnership, with the leaders welcoming the opening of ONGC Videsh Ltd’s office in Turkmenistan. The two countries also signed a MOU between the State Concern “Turkmenhimiya” and Indian PSU Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Limited to provide a framework for long-term sourcing of urea from Turkmenistan. The leader of Turkmenistan welcomed and acknowledged that India’s offer of its expertise in assisting Turkmenistan’s development in hydrocarbon and petrochemical sector.

Focus on defence and security

Another important takeaway from the visit was the signing of the Defence Cooperation Agreement, which underscored the growing importance of Turkmenistan and Central Asian region for India’s security-strategic calculus. The two sides focused on enhancing economic engagement and accelerating connectivity between the two countries and across the region. The two sides agreed to fast-track the International North South Transport Corridor, a trans-regional connectivity project which could be a game-changer in India’s plans to upgrade economic relationship with the region.

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