MARY: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) gas pipeline groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday near the city of Mary in southeastern Turkmenistan. Construction on the $10 billion pipeline has begun some 25 years after the inception of the project.
Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari also attended the ceremony. Television footage showed the four leaders shovelling dirt down a chute, making hand impressions on a plaque and signing their names on a portion of the pipeline under their country's flag.
The four countries have long planned the ambitious project to meet growing energy needs, but administrative issues and unrest in the region have so far delayed its realisation.
PM Nawaz, speaking on the occasion said the "vital achievement was made possible through perseverance through the patience and collective endeavours of all stakeholders", and lauded the "personal involvement and keen interest" of the Turkmen president.
"Tapi is not just a gas transit initiative connecting energy-rich Central Asia with energy-starved South Asia, but a trailblazing project that will open doors for greater regional economic collaboration and integration," the premier said.
"It holds a significant place in Pakistan's energy outlook," he said, adding that the project serves as a vital component of his government's new national energy policy and the plans for mitigating the country's energy deficiency.
He touched upon other major infrastructural projects under way in the country ─ Casa-1000 and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) ─ and encouraged other regional players to "take advantage of this transformational project (CPEC)".
"It will provide the shortest route for access to our sea ports through Central Asian republic and other states in the region," he said.
Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov also addressed the ceremony.
"By December 2019, the pipeline will be completed. It will have a capacity of 33 billion cubic metres (bcm)," Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said at the ceremony.
The event took place close to the giant Galkynysh gas field which is meant to provide gas for the 1,814-kilometre pipeline. Galkynysh already supplies gas for a pipeline to China, the main buyer of Turkmen gas, which imports between 30 and 35bcm per year.
The Turkmen government also said on Sunday it had signed a "framework agreement" with a consortium of Japanese and Turkish companies to implement the third stage of expansion at Galkynysh that will boost the field's output to 95bcm a year.
The consortium includes JGC Corporation, Mitsubishi , Itochu, Chiyoda and Sojitz of Japan as well as Calik Group of Companies and Ronesans Endustri Tesisleri of Turkey. The government did not disclose any other details such as the cost of expansion.
PM Nawaz and Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced at a meeting in Ashgabat that the regional gas pipeline project will strengthen relations between their countries, according to another Radio Pakistan report.
The Pakistani premier said the Tapi project will bring peace to the region and promote trade. The two countries reaffirmed their resolve to further strengthen their bilateral relationship.
Mobin Saulat, managing director of Interstate Gas Systems Private Ltd – the Pakistani company responsible for import of gas into Pakistan via the project ─ said last week that the groundbreaking of the pipeline would take place in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on Dec 13 (today).
Upon his arrival in Turkmenistan, Nawaz held a meeting with President Berdymukhamedov, the Afghan president and the Indian vice president in the city of Mary.
The high-level meeting discussed the project, stressing the need for enhanced connectivity for regional stability.
Speaking at a conference celebrating Turkmenistan's 20th anniversary of its policy of permanent neutrality in Ashgabat, Nawaz on Saturday said that Pakistan was pursuing a policy of strong cooperation with regional countries, especially with next door neighbours, for prosperity and enhanced connectivity.
Nawaz mentioned the CASA-1000, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and road projects with Afghanistan, which were a manifestation of his policy to enhance regional connectivity.
Pakistan and India will get over 1.3 billion cubic feet per day of gas from Tapi while Afghanistan will get 0.5 billion cubic feet, Mobin Saulat earlier said, adding that India will pay $200-250 million in transit fees to Pakistan while Pakistan will pay the same amount in transit fees to Afghanistan. The gas link has an annual capacity of 33 billion cubic metres, a Turkmen newspaper earlier reported.
For Turkmenistan, which has been hit by low energy prices and dependence on China for the vast majority of its gas sales, Tapi is a key opportunity to diversify its exports.
But uncertainty hangs over the costly project. Aside from the risks associated with a link traversing war-torn Afghanistan, the four-country consortium has yet to confirm the participation of a foreign commercial partner willing to help finance it.
The project is politically complex, requiring cooperating governments, and logistically challenging, as the pipeline would pass through areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan plagued by Taliban and separatist insurgents.