TRANS-AFGHAN GAS PIPELINE
The 1400 km long gas pipeline costing about $2.5 billion is estimated to pipe about 30 billion cubic metres of gas
From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
Jan 06 - 12, 2003
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 region."
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.