By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

                                             

The 17,000 Km long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI), natural gas pipeline project has been signed on December 11, 2010, during Ashkhabad Summit. The project is both unique and significant. Unique in the sense that, it is third time that concern parties has agreed for its construction, but practically no construction work on it could be started as yet, mainly because of security reasons, mainly prevailing in Afghanistan. Initially, the project was conceived as TAP (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan) during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Later it was revived twice; as TAP and TAPI during Karazai administration in Afghanistan. On December 11, 2010, the energy ministers of all four countries signed the framework agreement of the project, whereas, the Presidents of all countries less India signed the key document. Mr. Murli Deora, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, represented India, who signed the key document also.

 

The envisaged route of the gas pipeline is from Turkmen Dauletabad gas fields to Fazilaka India via Herat-Kandahar (Afghanistan) and Quetta Pakistan. The designated capacity of the gas is expected to be 33 billion cubic meters per year. The estimated cost of the project is $8 billion. Yoloton gas field, being developed by Turkmenistan may later become another supply source for this pipeline in future. According to initial estimates, “India and Pakistan would each stand to receive around 38 million cubic meters of gas out of the 90 million cubic meters shipped daily,” with rest going to Afghanistan. Indeed, Turkmenistan is numbered as a country having fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world. It is supplying gas to Russian Federation and China too.

Apart from others, the Eni Oil and Gas Company of Italy, has recently desired to construct this gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India.  Indeed, Unocal, a U.S led consortium, was all set to undertake the project in 1990s, once it developed differences with Taliban regime. Whereas, the consortium is consider as the basic force behind the emergence of Taliban as a power in mid 1990s. It funded the Taliban militia for gaining a foothold in Afghanistan. Initially, this consortium also locked in fierce competition with Argentina's Bridas to win a deal to construct and run the route. The later was ready to undertake the construction at a cheaper rate and in a record period. However, the US consortium had other strategic objectives linked with the pipeline, which Afghan did not agree. 

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Following the over-through of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, the heads of the state of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan met in Islamabad in May 2002. The heads agreed to constitute a steering committee, consisting of oil and gas ministers of three states. The committee requested the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the requisite funding and technical assistance. The ADB after necessary analysis of the project, promised assistance for, “financing a techno-economic feasibility study that covered pipeline routing, preliminary design, cost estimates, and rapid environmental impact assessment, and to assess volume-price sensitivity.”

In phase-1, ADB also supported a market study on demand for natural gas in Pakistan and northern India, and a risk analysis and risk mitigation study to address the concerns of gas-consuming countries and of downstream consumers in case gas supply is disrupted along the route of the pipeline. In a way, ADB, which is acting as the secretariat of the project, vigorously persuaded and compelled the basic partners of the agreement to include India into it? The technical assistance by the designers of ADB also include construction of underground reservoirs for the storage of natural gas in Pakistan in sufficient quantity for meeting the emergency requirements of the consumer countries, in case of shortage of supply at the source or interruption in between. 

The project is significant, because it is the first formal effort for linking the energy rich Central Asia with the energy deficient South Asia. Moreover, the project would provide an outlet to the land locked Central Asian Republics (CARs) through a shortest possible route for the rest of the world. At regional level, the project would lead towards a regional integration between the South and Central Asia. The regional resources would be consumed by regional countries. It is worth mentioning that as compare to the former routes of oil and gas from CARs to rest of the world through Russia, Pakistan provides shortest excess to the regional countries for export and transportation of their natural resources via Arabian Sea as well as the overland route.

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Another significance of the project would be that a huge number of human resources would be committed during the construction of the pipeline and even thereafter on monitoring, storage and security related and miscellaneous duties. As per estimate, over 12,000 jobs would be created for the Afghan people only during the pipeline construction. This would provide employments to the people in their respective areas, thus substantially reducing the unemployment in these countries. Apart from this optimistic aspect, for the countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, the project would bring a huge amount of the transit fee, as the pipeline covers huge stretches through the Pak-Afghan territories. 

Besides, a lot of positive aspects and hopes for the economic prosperity, the TAPI is expected to bring in, there are fears linked with the completion of this project.  The pipeline has to pass through some rowdy areas of Afghanistan, still under the occupation of Taliban and warlords. The member countries of the TAPI and even the ADB have shown concern over the security aspects of the pipeline in the Taliban dominated areas and some areas of Pakistan, frequently hit by terrorists. Indeed, “The issue is not only security in the sense that you can't actually guarantee the safety of the pipeline, but actual construction is going to be difficult as well.”

In this regard, the ongoing efforts of Hamid Karazai for the reconciliation and re-integration of Taliban and warlords needs further impetus. Definitely the countries directly involved in the Afghan affairs; the US and NATO countries and India, which is massively involved in the garb of Afghan development have the primary responsibility to bring stability in that country. Of course, the other regional countries do have a role to play for the stability of Afghanistan, the way Pakistan is assisting the Karazai administration in the integration and reconciliation of Taliban with his Government.  Luckily, the project has the tacit approval from the United States, the occupier of Afghanistan. US otherwise, encourage and support all oil and gas pipelines from the Central Asian and Caspian region to Asia and Europe from routes other than those passing either from Russia or from Iran. In this regard, it is also highlighted that, US still oppose the establishment of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. It was because of US pressure that forced India to withdraw from the project, previously known as the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline.    

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Pakistan welcomes Indian participation in this gas pipeline project. The terrorist hit country expect that all those who promote, abet and finance terrorism and sub-nationalism in Pakistan would now desist from this nefarious act for the greater cause of economic prosperity in South Asia. Let us make TAPI as the symbol of peace, stability, and economic prosperity of South and Central Asia.

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