Dealing a shock to New Delhi, Afghanistan has struck a strident position on the transit fee for gas that has serious implications for the ambitious Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.
India was hoping that Kabul would at least accept the terms Pakistan had informally agreed for the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline on the transit cost.
In the negotiations New Delhi said it would offer 25 cents per MMBtu — a unit to measure gas — the amount Pakistan “informally accepted” as transit fee for the IPI pipeline.But to New Delhi’s surprise, Kabul said they are not ready to accept any fixed transit fee and would prefer the transit cost being linked to the gas price.
“We were hoping to settle the transit fee before getting to the tougher part of the gas price negotiation with Turkmenistan”, says a government official.
Of the 1,680 TAPI pipeline, 735 km goes through Afghanistan. It passes through the tough terrains of Herat, Lakshkar Gah and Kandahar within Afghanistan, before it enters Pakistan to complete another 800 km.
“First we have to agree on the transit fee, then the rest will follow”, pointed out an official. As per the understanding among the four countries in the gas pipelines project, Afghanistan has to clear the routes of all impediments, including any mines in proposed path of the pipeline.
“Each country has to take all necessary measures for the safe passage of the pipeline through its territory”, says an official.
The TAPI pipeline, which unlike the IPI, has the active support of the Americans.
Washington’s vital interest in TAPI includes having an alternative route for Central Asian gas that will bypass the Russian pipelines’ networks. Joining this pipeline is also expected to underscore India’s position as a development partner to Afghanistan. Estimated to cost US$10 billion, the project is expected to supply 38 million standard cubic meters of gas to India.