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India Faces Challenges During Quest for Energy Security

India's rapid economic development has left it thirsty for energy. While New Delhi's recent nuclear power deal with Washington partly addresses that concern, the South Asian country remains under pressure to find more power sources. Global politics may be the biggest obstacle to India's quest for energy security.

India's search for energy sources is taking the nation of one billion people far and wide.

The main concern at the moment is securing oil and gas. India imports more than three quarters of its crude oil and half of its gas.

The petroleum ministry says that even if India raises annual domestic oil production from today's 35 million tons to 50 million tons in 20 years, it would not be enough to satisfy the rapidly growing economy. India would still need to import at least 85 percent of its oil. And it would continue to import half of its gas needs even if domestic production doubles in the next two decades.

So India is looking to Iran - with a planned 3,000 kilometer gas pipeline via Pakistan. It would be the most ambitious energy link in South Asia.

However, Iran's controversial nuclear programs may interfere with that plan. Washington is pressuring Pakistan and India to abandon the project with Tehran - considered by the United States to be the world's biggest security threat.

The issue puts India in a tight spot between Washington and Tehran.

Niklas Swanstrom, an expert on energy politics at Uppsala University in Sweden, says India may have to choose between energy security and international politics.

"They badly need energy and they would have to diversify. But they are also eager to be accepted by the U.S.," he said. " I think they would have to backtrack a bit when it comes to energy security as long as the international community, that is the United States, can guarantee that India's energy needs will be secured without this pipeline."

But Shebonti Ray Dadwal, an energy security expert at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, says India is not about to compromise energy security for global politics.

"We (India) certainly need the gas from Iran," Dadwal explained. " We are not going to succumb to any pressure from any other country because of their personal problem with Iran or Pakistan. We're going to go ahead if it can meet our consideration and our demand."

As India deals with the pipeline's political problems, a possible alternative is emerging: the $5 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan, or TAP, gas pipeline. India was invited to join the project last month and has until May to decide.

Although Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state in Central Asia, the United States supports the TAP project because it will bring much-needed revenue to Afghanistan's fledgling democracy.

This is just one of several examples where India - the world's largest democracy - is facing clashing political priorities and energy interests.

New Delhi also is looking to other countries for fuel - including some that Western governments deplore for their poor human rights records. In doing so, it follows the footsteps of China, another rapidly growing giant hungry for fuel.

In March, New Delhi signed a gas agreement with the repressive military government of neighboring Burma. And in a deal to edge out competitors, India and China jointly bid $500 million to take over a Syrian oil field.

Manjeet Singh Pardesi, an India political analyst at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, thinks that New Delhi is risking political tensions with the West with such deals.

"Some of the regimes India and China have approached are less than desirable as far the international community is concerned. So this would raise political tensions between India and the West," Pardesi said.

Experts say that India realizes it can not necessarily rely on oil and gas to power its economy. And, they say, New Delhi is trying to balance the political interests of a number of nations.

One sign of this is India's decision to boost nuclear energy production, which currently only accounts for three percent of its total electricity generation. Last month, New Delhi concluded a landmark deal to buy nuclear technology and equipment from the United States.

Some political analysts say in this high-stakes game, India is carefully considering its choices to ensure a win-win outcome - enough fuel and good relations with both its neighbors and world powers.