AHMAD AHMADANI

ISLAMABAD--Despite high hopes to materialise the multi-billion dollars Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, illusive security situation in Afghanistan remains the critical issue to ensure security of the pipeline.

The fundamental issues relating to financing as well as establishment of international consortium have raised high hopes about the ambitious project but experts told The Nation on Monday that security of the proposed pipeline through Afghanistan remains the lone concern. It is reliably learnt that Ashkhabad hosted a series of meetings of Afghan delegation with the Turkmen government in the context of further development of constructive cooperation where a ‘special significance and a stabilising factor of projects initiated by Turkmenistan’ was stressed.

The meetings discussed an action plan to further develop regional cooperation, including in the fuel and energy sector and power industry, sources said, adding, that the meetings also discussed in details the question of constructing the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and laying power lines along the Mary-Atamyrat (Turkmenistan)-Andkhoy (Afghanistan) Highway, which will increase the export of the Turkmen electricity to Afghanistan by 5 times and will meet the neighbouring country's electricity needs almost by 70 per cent.

Sources further informed that the Asian Development Bank is actively promoting this US backed project and is funding for the preparation of its feasibility study. At present, the principle of forming an international consortium is under discussions and issue regarding funding of the project is being solved.

A design capacity of TAPI is 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. The basic document to advance TAPI project is an inter-State agreement to start implementation of TAPI, signed at a high-level moot in Ashkhabad in December 2010.

Instability in Afghanistan remains as a serious obstacle, but Kabul states that it can ensure the safety of the route. The length of the pipeline may hit 1,735 km. When contacted energy experts, they said that succumbing to the growing US pressure on Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline, Islamabad and Ashkhabad have already reached an accord for delivery of 1.3 billion cubic feet a day of Turkmen gas at 69 per cent of crude oil parity price under the $7.6 billion TAPI pipeline project, which would once again put the IP gas pipeline plan into the doldrums.

Imported Turkmen gas under TAPI would be costlier than Iranian gas and other imported fuels as its price has been linked with the price of Brent crude oil, energy experts added.