The administration of President Hamid Karzai has assured Pakistan and India that it has reached an ‘understanding’ with Taliban insurgents to ensure the security of the multi-billion-dollar Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project.
“The Afghan Taliban have assured that they would not sabotage the project,” a senior official told The Express Tribune quoting Afghan authorities. “The Afghan government would also deploy troops to ensure the security of the pipeline,” the official added.
Pakistan, India and Afghanistan are scheduled to meet in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat on May 23 to sign the Gas Sales Purchase Agreement (GSPA). The proposed pipeline will pass through Herat, Kandahar, the birthplace of the Afghan Taliban and the most volatile province of Afghanistan, then Balochistan and Multan before entering Indian Punjab.
There is also the issue of mines on the proposed route. In 2008, Afghanistan was tasked to clear the mines on the route area within two years. Currently, officials are also unclear whether the Afghan government has succeeded in removing these mines or not.
Due to Taliban’s involvement in insurgency on the proposed route, Pakistan had earlier also proposed Turkmenistan to supply gas via Iran using the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline instead of laying a pipeline through Afghanistan, under a swap arrangement. But the proposal never materialised due to unprecedented opposition from the US against Iran.
Under this proposed arrangement, the imported gas volume agreed between Pakistan and Turkmenistan was to be supplied to the northern provinces of Iran in lieu of which Iran was to supply equivalent gas volume through the IP pipeline to Pakistan.
According to the official, an alternative western route of constructing the pipeline between the Afghanistan-Iran and Pakistan-Iran border was also proposed that was agreed by the Afghan government. Pakistan had floated this proposal as it believed that more than 72% insurgency-related cases by the Taliban take place on the earlier proposed TAPI gas pipeline route.
“After assurance from the Karazai government that Taliban will not blow up the pipeline, participating countries have agreed to lay the pipeline on the earlier proposed route,” the official said.
Participating countries including India were also concerned about security situation in Balochistan.”We have assured them that the government would prepare a force of local people to deploy in the area of the pipeline in Balochistan to ensure security,” the official added.
When the participating countries meet in Turkmenistan on May 23, they will ink the formal deal on the transit fee and GSPA. Pakistan, India and Afghanistan had agreed on a transit fee rate at 49.5 cents per million British thermal units (MMBTU), during the talks held in Islamabad earlier.
India will pay 49.5 cents per MMBTU as transit fee to Pakistan and Pakistan will pay an equal amount to Afghanistan.
“Pakistan will get $217 million as transit fee from India, which will be paid to Afghanistan,” the official said.
Pakistan and Turkmenistan have also agreed at a gas price rate equal to 70% of crude oil against the 78% of crude oil with Iran under the IP gas pipeline project.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2012.