Avaza, Turkmenistan: Turkmenistan agreed on Wednesday to supply natural gas to Pakistan and India in deals that offer major economic benefits but depend on building and defending a US-backed pipeline across chronically unstable Afghanistan.
The route, particularly the 735-km leg through the Afghan provinces of Herat and Kandahar, will need billions of dollars in funding. It faces significant security problems as the Western Nato alliance plans to hand control of Afghanistan to Kabul’s own security forces by the middle of next year.
Joint investment: Turkmengaz chief Sahatmurad Mamedov (left) and Gail India chairman B.C.Tripathi in Avaza on Wednesday. By AP
Turkmenistan’s state gas firm Turkmengaz signed gas sale and purchase agreements with Pakistan’s Inter State Gas Systems and Indian state-run utility GAIL India Ltd.
“The implementation of this project will give a powerful impetus to the social and economic development of all participant countries,” Turkmen deputy prime minister Baimurad Hojamukhamedov said before the signing ceremony.
India and Pakistan are both hungry for gas supplies and Turkmenistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is keen to free itself from reliance on gas exports to Russia.
Lilit Gevorgyan, analyst at IHS Global Insight, said that while the pipeline could be a lucrative commercial project, it would run through more than one high security risk country, “which puts the actual construction under a big question mark”.
The idea of Tapi pipeline, an acronym formed from the initials of the four countries through which it would pass, was first raised in the mid-1990s. Turkmen officials said the proposed 1,735-km pipeline could carry 1 trillion cu. m of gas over a 30-year period, or 33 billion cu. m a year.
Turkmenistan, a desert country of 5.5 million, is viewed by human rights bodies as one of the world’s most secretive and repressive countries. But Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has moved in recent years to warm ties with the West, whose political support and investment he needs to lay alternative gas export routes.
A major obstacle to the project is the stretch of pipeline that will run through Afghanistan. Nato set an “irreversible” course out of Afghanistan on Monday but US President Barack Obama admitted its plan to end the war in 2014 was fraught with dangers.
“Ultimately we believe all challenges, including security that the project faces, can be managed or overcome,” Daniel Stein, senior adviser to US state department’s special envoy for Eurasian energy, said in Avaza. He did not elaborate.
But IHS Global Insight’s Gevorgyan wrote “the project had a slim fighting chance in the past decade as Nato was still in Afghanistan”. “With the Western troops’ pullout by 2014...building an expensive pipeline with very weak central government seems almost unattainable.”
Asian Development Bank said the pipeline would cost at least $7.6 billion in 2008. Analysts now say it could cost between $10 billion and $12 billion.