Afghanistan says confident can secure TAPI gas pipeline

(For more on Afghanistan, click on [ID:nAFPAK])

*Pipeline, valued at $3.3 bln, to run through Taliban areas

*Minister says tight security will be in place

*Confident project will attract foreign investment

By Emma Graham-Harrison

KABUL, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Afghanistan will secure a planned international gas pipeline through the Taliban heartland by burying sections underground and paying local communities to guard it, the mining minister said on Wednesday.

Wahidullah Shahrani also said he was confident the project -- valued at $3.3 billion and which would run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India (TAPI) -- could secure international funding.

“This huge project is very important to Afganistan,” Shahrani told a news conference in the capital, Kabul.

“We will be earning a transit fee of hundreds of millions of dollars each year, it will create tremendous job opportunities for the people of Afghanistan during and after the construction, and the major population centres along the pipeline will benefit from the gas supplies,” he said.

Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ordered that the project be completed and operational by 2014, one of Shahrani’s aides told Reuters, so the four countries are working at top speed to complete preliminaries before seeking investors.

Berdymukhamedov has also provided audited studies of the gas fields which would supply the pipeline, to reassure investors and the governments involved that there will be enough supply.

Analysts, however, say the agreement is still at a preliminary stage and that security challenges in Afghanistan and the tensions between India and Pakistan remain an obstacle.

The project was originally mooted in the early 1990s, but has been stalled by years of conflict and instability in Afghanistan.


Turkmenistan, holder of the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves, is actively looking to diversify energy sales from its traditional market, Russia, and is courting investors from the West, China and other Asian countries.

The four countries the pipeline passes through signed the framework of an agreement on Monday. [nSGE68J0M0]

They will have three or four meetings before the end of the year to bash out technical details, and the heads of government of all countries will meet in December to sign an intergovernment agreement giving political impetus to the deal, Shahrani said.

Energy-hungry Pakistan is pushing hard for a quick implementation of the long-delayed project. [nSGE68K0B9]

Turkmenistan has previously estimated the cost of the project at $3.3 billion, with initial capacity to transport 33 billion cubic metres a year over nearly 2,000 km (1,250 miles), including 735 km across Afghanistan and another 800 km through Pakistan.

The pipeline route takes it through areas of extreme instability. In Afghanistan it would snake from western Herat, near the border with Iran, through the southern Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar.

The central government has only a tenuous grip on much of this territory, despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops meant to bolster security.

But Shahrani said he was confident Afghanistan could secure the pipeline. Pakistan, Afghanistan and India are all hungry for more energy but are at times uneasy neighbours.

“The government will provide security along the line, which in most places will be 2 metres underground,” Shahrani said.

The four countries, which are currently being advised by the Asian Development Bank, aim to set up a consortium of international investors. They are currently working with a transaction adviser, Shahrani’s aide said.