Taliban Ready to Start Work on Long-Awaited TAPI Gas Pipeline

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By ETV Bharat English Team

Published : Feb 28, 2024, 6:25 PM IST

Taliban Ready to Start Work on TAPI Gas Pipeline

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has decided to start work on the much-awaited Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. ETV Bharat’s Aroonim Bhuyan explains what the project is all about and what it means for India.

New Delhi: In what will be a matter of relief for India, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has decided to start practical work on the ambitious but long-delayed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

The announcement was made after a meeting between Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Taliban Amir Khan Muttaqi and his Turkmen counterpart Rashid Muradov in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, earlier this week, Afghan news website 'etilaatroz dot com' reported.

According to the report, during the meeting, Muttaqi expressed his hope that the two sides will be able to start the practical work of the TAPI project in Afghanistan in the near future. On his part, Muradov said that Turkmenistan considered the TAPI project as “a large and strategically important project”.

“Muradov said that they have advanced the TAPI project in their country sufficiently and expressed hope that the joint teams of the two sides will be able to start the work of this project in Afghanistan,” the report stated.

What exactly is the TAPI gas pipeline?- Turkmenistan’s gas transmission project from Afghanistan to Pakistan and India is one of the largest gas transmission projects in the region. Through this project, 33 billion cubic meters of gas will be transferred annually from Turkmenistan to the three other countries.

The roots of this project lie in the involvement of international oil companies in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in the beginning of 1990s. As Russia, who controlled all export pipelines of these countries, consistently refused to allow the use of its pipeline network, these companies needed an independent export route avoiding both Iran and Russia.

Also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, TAPI is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Galkynysh–TAPI Pipeline Company Limited with participation of the Asian Development Bank. The pipeline will transport natural gas from the Galkynysh Gas Field in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India. The Galkynysh Gas Field, the primary source of gas for TAPI, has estimated reserves of around 16 to 26 trillion cubic metres.

The 1,814-km pipeline will be constructed alongside the Kandahar–Herat Highway in western Afghanistan, and then via Quetta and Multan in Pakistan. The final destination of the pipeline will be the Indian town of Fazilka near the border between Pakistan and India.

The idea for the TAPI gas pipeline was first proposed in the 1990s, and the intergovernmental framework agreement was signed in 2010. The project is often referred to as the “Peace Pipeline” because it is seen as a potential catalyst for regional stability and economic development.

However, in April 2012, India and Afghanistan failed to agree on transit fee for gas passing through Afghan territory. Consequently, Islamabad and New Delhi too could not agree on the transit fee for the segment of the pipeline passing through Pakistan, which has linked its fee structure to any India-Afghanistan agreement. On May 16, 2012, the Afghan Parliament approved the agreement on a gas pipeline and the day after, the Indian Cabinet allowed state-run gas-firm GAIL to sign the Gas Sale and Purchase Agreement (GSPA) with Turkmengaz, Turkmenistan's national oil company.

What benefits can India accrue from the TAPI gas pipeline?- India stands to gain several benefits from the TAPI gas pipeline project. TAPI offers India an additional source of natural gas, helping diversify its energy mix and reduce dependence on traditional energy sources like coal and oil. Access to natural gas from Turkmenistan through TAPI enhances India’s energy security by providing a stable and reliable supply. Diversifying energy sources helps mitigate the risks associated with dependence on a single country or region for energy imports.

The availability of natural gas can support India’s economic growth and industrial development. Natural gas is a cleaner fuel compared to coal and can contribute to environmentally sustainable industrial practices.

The construction and operation of the TAPI pipeline can generate employment opportunities in India, contributing to local economic development and job creation. The gas pipeline also fosters regional cooperation and can strengthen diplomatic ties between India, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Collaborative energy projects can contribute to stability and peaceful relations in the region.

The TAPI project necessitates the development of infrastructure, including pipeline networks and associated facilities. This can have a positive impact on the overall infrastructure development in the regions through which the pipeline passes.

Natural gas is considered a cleaner-burning fuel compared to coal and oil, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions. Increased use of natural gas in India’s energy mix can contribute to the country’s efforts to address environmental concerns and reduce air pollution.

Integrating natural gas from TAPI into India’s energy mix helps balance the grid by providing a more flexible and responsive source of power. This is particularly important for managing fluctuations in demand and integrating renewable energy sources like solar and wind. India’s energy demand is continually rising due to population growth, urbanisation, and industrialisation. TAPI provides an additional source of energy to meet this increasing demand, supporting the country’s economic development.

The TAPI pipeline allows India to engage in long-term energy planning, securing a stable supply of natural gas for the future. This can be crucial for addressing the country’s energy needs in the coming decades.

Why did the project get delayed?- Construction of the estimated $10-billion project started in December 2015 and Turkmenistan has completed construction of the pipeline on its side. Work on the pipeline started in Afghanistan in February 2018 but issues like land acquisition delayed the project. In 2019, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum said that work would resume in 2020. However, delays continued to plague the project in 2020 too as laws on land acquisition could not be signed. Security issues in Afghanistan also delayed the project.

Then, in August 2021 the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan was overthrown and the Taliban assumed power in Kabul. In November 2021, Pakistan’s then Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub Khan said that work on the TAPI gas pipeline was on hold due to the situation in Afghanistan.

“According to the information that we have, no one is working on this project in Afghanistan as well as on other projects,” a media report quoted Ayub Khan as saying. “Many people have been evacuated and representatives of the World Bank are no longer there in Afghanistan.”

He said that only after the situation in Afghanistan becomes stable, “we will be able to return to the issue of construction”. “But for now, the project has been suspended until the situation is cleared up,” Ayub Khan had said. However, now with the Taliban deciding to start work on the project in Afghanistan, one can only hope that the pipeline sees the light of the day sooner than later.

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