With a big fanfare in Ashgabat, the three heads of
the state, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan — signed the frame
work agreement of Trans-Afghan pipeline (TAP) project. Speaking on the
occasion the 3 heads described the mega project as a "major
understanding", "a vital step for the entire region" and
"a blessing for the future generation of the region." The 3
leaders expressed their firm commitment to vigorously persue the once
shelved project and stressed that it was an economic project and should
not be viewed through political lens.
The multi billion dollars gas pipeline project was
conceived almost 15 years back. In the middle 1990s when the project was
about to be launched, the chaos that gripped in Afghanistan in the form
of infight between Taliban and other warlords, the multinational
companies which were to undertake the gigantic project, abandoned for
reasons of security. Now with the installation of Karzai government in
Kabul early this year, the security environment has improved a lot. The
Asian Development Bank took the initiative by funding a fresh
feasibility of the project. The International Companies engaged in this
field would shortly be invited to bid for the project. The 1400 km long
gas pipeline costing about $2.5 billion is estimated to pipe about 30
billion cubic metres of gas per year from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via
Afghanistan for onward supply and sale to international buyers. When
completed it will constitute a major political and economic achievement
for all the 3 countries.
Speaking on the occasion of signing ceremony, Prime
Minister Jamali said, 'I give firm assurance on my behalf and on behalf
of President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan that we are firmly
committed to Trans-Afghan Pipeline project and we fully realize the
benefits it will bring to the region. President Karzai, highlighting the
significance of the project for the South and Central Asian region,
said, "This project is pivotal not only for the three participating
countries but it will usher in economic blessings for the entire
The framework agreement, described by President
Niyazov as 'first major step toward implementation of the project'
provides roadmap for planting the pipeline firmly on Central and South
will take place in September 2003 to review progress on tasks assigned
to the managing committee of the project.
According to the basic agreement signed by three
countries in Islamabad in May this year, managing Committee of the
pipeline, comprising Afghan, Pakistani and Turkmen Ministers of oil and
gas meets quarterly in rotation in each capital. Next meeting is
scheduled for 16 February 2003 in Islamabad.
Representative of Asian Development Bank (ADB), who
was present during the ceremony, congratulated the three heads of State
'on their foresight, vision and commitment'. ADB has provided US $1.5
million for the feasibility study of the pipeline and remains committed
to identify potential markets for Turkmen gas in South Asia and beyond.
Zawya group of London has projected that by the year
2008, the gap between demand and supply of natural gas in India will be
between 54 to 70 billion cubic meters. At present India, with its
population of about 1 billion, consumers only 24 billion cubic meters
annually whereas Pakistan with 1/7 the population of India, burns 20
billion cubic meters. Meagre consumption of gas in India is explained by
the simple fact that there is not enough gas to meet the demands of
expanding economy and swelling humanity.
So far, India has expressed reservations about the
project on the grounds that Pakistan may turnoff the tap on the pipe in
case of escalated hostilities but the planners of the pipeline seem to
have received some kind of indication that India may be willing to have
onboard under certain circumstances and with additional reassurances.
It is, no doubt, a historic moment as the project
seems to be closer to reality after 15 long years of ups and downs.
Central Asia and Middle East have tremendous oil and gas reserve and
they have the potential to change destiny of the people of the regions
around if concrete and tangible projects are planned and executed to
exploit them properly. Almost all the countries of these regions are
developing States requiring sustained, guaranteed and low priced fuel
and energy to accelerate the pace of Industrialisation on which depends
their progress and prosperity. It was in this background that Pakistan
has long been negotiating with different countries for the purpose.
Several rounds of negotiations were held with Qatar for construction of
a pipeline from that country to Pakistan but the project somehow could
not take off. Talks are also in progress among Pakistan, Iran and India
for a similar project that envisages laying of a gas pipeline from Iran
to India via Pakistan. Though there are some reservations by India about
security of the pipeline but Pakistan has repeatedly offered firm
guarantees to ensure uninterrupted supply gas to the neighbouring
country. The feasibility study of the project is underway but much
depends on a political decision by the India Government. However,
Daulatabad gas pipeline project is proceeding ahead satisfactorily after
establishment of a new government in Afghanistan. World financial
institutions are showing keen interest in the project.