New Delhi: Vice president Hamid Ansari will represent India at the groundbreaking ceremony of the $10 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) gas pipeline in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on Sunday, a senior foreign ministry official said on Thursday.

Ansari will join Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif besides Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov for the ceremony on 13 December.

India’s participation in the 1,800km gas pipeline was cleared by the cabinet in May 2012. The pipeline will have the capacity to supply 3.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It will carry gas from Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh field that holds reserves of 16 trillion cubic feet.

Pakistan’s Interstate Gas Systems, along with Turkmenistan’s Turkmengas, Afghanistan’s Afghan Gas Enterprise and India’s Gail Ltd, has equal shareholding in the Tapi Pipeline Co. Ltd (TPCL).

Energy-deficient India will pay $200-250 million in transit fees to Pakistan for over 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas that it will receive while Pakistan will pay the same amount as transit fees to Afghanistan.

According to media reports from Turkmenistan, the Turkmen government expects the gas link to be fully operational by the end of 2018.

According to Navtej Sarna, secretary (west), in the Indian foreign ministry, security of the pipeline will be a key factor considered by the countries involved.

“No doubt this will be a very important aspect that will have to be worked out," Sarna told reporters at a press conference when asked whether any assurances on security were given by Turkmenistan or Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan is witnessing a resurgent Taliban insurgency and Pakistan too is battling home-grown terrorism.

Sarna also said that the pricing of gas was something that was needed to be worked out. He added that it was difficult to work out a timeline for the completion of the project though with the ground breaking ceremony “time is ticking," he said.

While in Turkmenistan, Ansari will also participate in a ceremony to mark 20 years of the United Nations recognising Turkmenistan’s permanent “positive neutrality." Positive neutrality along with an open-door policy are the two major components of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy.

Positive neutrality is defined as agreeing upon mutual non-interference in internal affairs, and maintaining neutrality in external conflicts. The open-doors policy has been adopted to encourage foreign investment and export trade, especially through the development of a transport infrastructure.

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