India’s Connect Central Asia policy and energy diplomacy are poised for a marked upsurge as Vice President Hamid Ansari heads to Turkmenistan to represent India at the launch of TAPI pipeline – a path-breaking project of regional connectivity and energy security, linking four countries in South Asia and the Central Asia pipeline.
Mr Ansari will spend barely 48 hours in Turkmenistan, but his agenda is wide-ranging that includes a reiteration of India’s non-alignment credentials at the 20th anniversary of the Neutrality Conference, a bilateral meeting with Turkmenistan President and attending the ground-breaking ceremony of the multi-billion dollar TAPI pipeline.
In many ways, 2015 is a landmark year in India’s Central Asia outreach which saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s transformative visit to all five Central Asian states and India’s elevation to full membership in the SCO in July. The vice-president’s December 11-13 visit to Turkmenistan signals India’s enhanced economic, energy and strategic stakes in Central Asia, against the backdrop of the continuing flux in Afghanistan and the proliferation of security threats in the region.
The highlight of the visit will be clearly the inauguration of the $10-billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline on December 13 at Merv, a historic town on the ancient Silk Road. Given the scale and complexities involved, the project has been negotiated for more than two decades, with differing perceptions over pricing of gas, security and logistics, slowing the process down. The prickly off-on relations between India and Pakistan, and the fragile security situation in Afghanistan, were among key factors that slowed down the project all these years. The ground-breaking ceremony, therefore, marks the triumph of hope and should be celebrated amid continued volatility in the region.
The project, however, remains a work in progress, with modalities still in the process of being firmed up. After many rounds of failed negotiation, Turkmenistan has taken the mantle of being the consortium leader. “They are now in the process of working out preliminary arrangements by which in due time they will reach what is called a final investment decision. And no doubt during this period they will be identifying sources of investment and sources of funds. They are in discussion with several countries and several multilateral agencies,” said Navtej Sarna, secretary (west) in India’s external affairs ministry.
The TAPI project is expected to be operational by August 2017. In November 2014, the four state gas companies of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India established a company named TAPI Pipeline Company that will build, own and operate the planned 1,800 kms TAPI natural gas pipeline. The company has been incorporated as a Special Purpose Vehicle in the Isle of Man.
The TAPI project, once the gas start flowing from it, is expected to be a game-changer in setting new benchmarks for regional integration and brining the region together in quest of regional integration.
Celebrating Neutrality, Gandhi and yoga
Another important event during the vice-president’s visit will be the commemorative Neutrality Conference, which marks 20 years of the grant of permanent neutrality” to Turkmenistan by the UN in 1995. Mr Ansari will join world leaders at this conference, where he is expected to extol the virtues of neutrality in international affairs and underline India’s unflagging commitment to core values of non-aligned movement amid the mutating global landscape.
In June 2015, the UN General Assembly by a resolution reaffirmed support for the status of Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan. It welcomed the government’s decision to declare 2015 the Year of Neutrality and Peace as well as the holding of an International Conference on “The policy of neutrality: international cooperation for peace, security and development”.
In a crisis-ridden world, marked by gratuitous interventions in internal affairs of other states, and the escalation of military conflicts, statements coming out of the neutrality conference should be heeded by all those who care for global peace. It’s fitting that after speaking at the Neutrality Conference, Hamid Ansari pay homage to the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Ashgabat, which was unveiled by PM Modi during his trip to Turkmenistan in July. The Gandhi statue stands at the entrance to the Holistic Health and Yoga Centre, inspiring everyone to practice harmonious living.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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