29 November 2006

Pipelines should carry energy, not project power

A major international seminar in Delhi saw experts discussing the enormous potential for energy and transport links between South Asia and Central Asia.

29 November 2006
The Hindu

Experts call for deeper energy links between South and Central Asia
"Pipelines should carry energy, not project power"

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Underlining the tremendous scope for energy and transport linkages between South Asia and Central Asia, academics and policymakers from the region, participating in a major international seminar here, said commercial viability and energy requirements should determine the architecture of transit corridors rather than geopolitics and power projection.

Their recommendation flies in the face of the U.S. opposition to the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and the promotion of west-bound pipeline grids out of Central Asia as a strategic alternative to grids linking the region to energy-deficit areas in Asia.

The U.S. State Department last year unified its South Asian and Central Asian desks and has sought to use India to balance the growing role of China and Russia in the Eurasian heartland.

However, most experts at the three-day seminar on energy and transit linkages between Central Asia and South Asia, which ended here Monday, stressed the importance of India deepening its engagement with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as well as bilaterally and trilaterally with China and Russia.

"The contradictions and competing trends among various countries in the region can be minimised if these countries are made stakeholders in existing and prospective projects of energy and transport linkage," one of the seminar's recommendations states.

Organised by the Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation and the Central Asian Studies Programme of Jawaharlal Nehru University, the seminar brought together over 100 leading academics, energy specialists and officials from India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Japan and Israel.

Keeping in view the physical obstacles, the adverse security situation in Afghanistan and the reluctance of interested parties to make huge investments there, the Central and South Asian countries should look for a reliable alternative option to bring Kazakh and Caspian hydrocarbon resources to South Asia, the seminar recommends.

Many participants also stressed the importance of India working on a "North-South corridor continuum" to link Central Asia to South Asia via Iran, China and Pakistan. Central to such an initiative was the need for confidence-building measures.

A representative of the Energy Charter Secretariat noted that the Energy Charter Treaty provided a legal framework for multilateral cooperation among countries which might otherwise have difficulty working with one another.

The seminar underscored the benefits of interconnections between the South Asian and Central Asian electricity grids as the movement of electricity posed fewer geological difficulties than the movement of hydrocarbons. One of its recommendations was also for India and China to reopen the traditional India-Central Asia overland trade route via Ladakh in India and the Xinjiang region of China to the Central Asian Republics.

In the end, seminar participants stressed that the problem of connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia could only be solved through "a cooperative and inclusive approach" as against a competitive and exclusive one. "Geo-economics and geo-culture must take priority over competitive geopolitics to address the problem of connectivity between these two important regions of Asia," its final recommendation states.

Further reading:

Oil, power and the new Silk Road in Asia
Heritage Foundation report: U.S. Interests and Central Asia Energy Security

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