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New TAPI gas pipeline could boost Afghanistan, regional stability

Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India are set to sign a gas pipeline deal tomorrow. But the planned route goes through two fierce Taliban areas, raising security concerns.

By Abdujalil AbdurasulovContributor / December 10, 2010



Almaty, Kazakhstan

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India are set to sign an agreement tomorrow on a major gas pipeline from Turkmenistan that would help meet the trio's growing energy needs and potentially stabilize the region. But with a planned route that passes through two of the fiercest Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, the pipeline's security remains a serious concern.

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“[The pipeline's] route may serve as a stabilizing corridor, linking neighbors together in economic growth and prosperity,” said Susan Elliot, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State on South and Central Asian Affairs, at an energy conference in Turkmenistan last month. “The road ahead is long for this project but the benefits could be tremendous and are certainly worthy of the diligence demonstrated by these four countries so far.”

Significantly, this gas pipeline will also challenge a rival project involving Iran. That proposed pipeline, which would run from Iran to India via Pakistan and thus is known as IPI, was stalled due to security issues and the strong opposition from the US because of Iran's nuclear program. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, or TAPI, is seen as a potential alternative to the Iranian supply line.

The presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan and the petroleum minister of India have gathered in the capital of gas-rich Turkmenistan to finalize the last remaining details. On Dec. 11, they are expected to sign the agreement to build the 1,700-km (1,060 miles) pipeline.

This $7.6 billion project will deliver 33 billion of cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year from the giant Dauletabad field in southeast of Turkmenistan. Most of this gas will be shipped to energy-hungry Pakistan and India. The US government also sees TAPI as contributing to reconstruction and peaceful development of Afghanistan.

Why Turkmenistan was eager for a deal

Initially proposed in mid 1990s, TAPI for years remained but a dream due to the instability in Afghanistan and later in Pakistan. The idea was revived in 2005 with the help of the Asian Development Bank, which sponsored the feasibility study for this project. This year, Turkmenistan – losing significant business over a rift with Russia – pushed hard to finalize the agreement.

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