In a significant development, India today signed initial agreements for a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and Pakistan, a project that US has been backing as an alternative to a line from Iran.
The four nations initialed the Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement (GPFA) and heads of agreements for the proposed Gas Sales Purchase Agreement for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project, in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat.
"We have today initialed two important agreements for the implementation of the TAPI gas pipeline project," Minister of
State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Jitin Prasada, who led the Indian delegation at the signing, said from Ashgabat.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB)-backed 1,680-km long pipeline would supply the energy hungry nation 38 million
standard cubic meters per day of gas.
"The pipeline is important for us in meeting our energy needs but security concerns particularly in Afghanistan as
well as in Pakistan will have to be addressed satisfactorily," Prasada said.
Today's signing will be followed by signing of Gas Sales and Purchase Agreement, which will outline the terms on which
the Central Asian nation will sell gas, and agreements providing state support by the four nations in the project.
"We want security issues to be addressed before these agreements are signed," he said. "Afghanistan and Pakistan
will make presentations (at the next Steering Committeee meeting of TAPI) on how they propose to secure the pipeline."
An overwhelming 735-km of the proposed pipeline will pass through the volatile Afghanisatan and another 800-km through
Pakistan, and New Delhi is concerned that anti-India elements in both these nations may hold the pipeline ransom to hurt the nation's economic interest.
The US is, however, backing this pipeline as a rival to the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Washington discourages
countries from dealing with Iran, a nation it accuses of harbouring nuclear weapon ambitions.
India had in April 2008 joined the TAPI project and the four partner countries today signed two important documents.
"The Cabinet has already given in-principle approval to the GPFA. However, the final signing would be done only after
the Cabinet approves this document," Prasada said.
Prasada stressed that to make this project successful, all stakeholders should recognize that the transit fee for the
gas through various countries be kept at minimum, the security issues be properly addressed with absolute clarity on
institutional mechanism for this, and before taking this project further, the pricing & other GSPA issues be resolved
to the full satisfaction of all partner countries.
The signing was attended by Turkmenistan Deputy Prime Minister Baymyrat Hojamuhammedov, Afghanistan's Mining
Minister Wahidullah Shahrani and Pakistan's Petroleum and Natural Resoruces Minister Naveed Qamar.