December 3, 2010 5:22:18 am
India is all set to give its consent for an inter-governmental agreement on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline,which will be signed in Turkmenistan at a summit meet next week. This is being termed as a major breakthrough for a project that has hardly moved beyond the drawing board for nearly a decade.
In fact,Turkmenistan,Afghanistan and Pakistan will be represented by their respective Presidents Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov,Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari at the meet slated for December 10-11. India is likely to be represented by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be in Belgium for the India-EU Summit.
According to reliable sources,India has already agreed,in principle,but the final Cabinet approval process is under way. India has,however,made it clear that its consent will be subject to satisfactory arrangements on the security and pricing front.
Pakistan,which has shown more interest in the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project than this one,too has raised the security the red flag but is willing to go ahead with the inter-governmental agreement. In fact,TAPI is a direct counter to IPI pipeline as such an inter-governmental agreement has eluded the latter.
Its learnt that matters have moved at an unprecedented pace in the past few months,largely due to western pressure. This project was always seen as a major regional initiative to support Afghanistan and had found specific mention in the Kabul Conference Communique in July this year.
Turkmenistan,on its part,too showed renewed commitment. Having allotted the Daulatabad gas blocks to Iran,a fresh source needed to be identified. Through this agreement,Turkmenistan will commit new blocks from its southern fields. Afghanistan and Pakistan,on the other hand,will guarantee security and transit besides entering into purchase contracts. India will commit to pick up the gas from an agreed delivery point.
While there are major hurdles in the execution of this project as its passes through the most troubled areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan,sources said,this political agreement will at least allow negotiations to begin on all important issues from pricing to security.
Berdymukhamedov had been actively pursuing the matter and conveyed to India his intent to provide a fresh source for the gas in late May. This set the stage for the project to be revived and then the collective endorsement at Kabul in July.
It may be noted that India and Pakistan have encountered serious problems in arriving at an understanding on the IPI pipeline. These issues could loom over these negotiations too,but the difference is that the TAPI project has US backing while the IPI pipeline does not.
The other crucial aspect to this project is that it will be funded by the Asian Development Bank,again made possible by strong US backing. The pipeline is expected to be nearly 1680 km long,of which over 1500 km fall in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Notwithstanding these concerns,the effort is being made with Washington convinced that this is vital for Afghanistan. Karzai too is equally keen and having held long bilateral negotiations with Turkmenistan,his government has been pushing quite hard. There continues to be scepticism in New Delhi,but sources said there is no harm going ahead with a project that could benefit Afghanistan.
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