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India’s Bid for Central Asian Natural Gas Remains Distant Reality

Friday 20 January 2012

NEW DELHI (IANS) – Will India’s attempt to obtain natural gas from Turkmenistan to augment its energy security requirements fructify? Political stability in transit countries were key to the realisation of the ambitious US $10 billion, 1,700 km pipeline project that is envisaged to bring gas from Central Asia to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan, both in throes of political turmoil and civil strife.

All that Turkmen Ambassador Parakhat H. Durdyev would commit to was delivery of gas at his country’s border. At an international conference organised by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on increasing India’s linkages with Central Asia, Durdyev, while responding to a question on the security of the pipeline, said: “We will deliver the gas at the border.” To this, former Indian foreign secretary K. Raghunath, who was chairing the session, added: “Sovereign countries cannot be expected to ensure security beyond their borders.”

Amin Saikal, director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, was more forthright. “As long as there is no stability (in Afghanistan and Pakistan), such projects are not feasible. Unless there is stability and security, these projects will remain on paper,” he contended. Saikal was supported by Aftab Kazi of Johns Hopkins University, who also felt that intra-Afghan politics was muddying the waters for such projects that could be lucrative for the Afghan economy. “One view is that the pipeline should come up to Kandahar (in southern Afghanistan) before entering Pakistan. Another view is that it should branch off in the north. Which view will prevail?” he wondered.

Mohammad Afzal, India’s former ambassador to Ashkabad during whose tenure the four-country agreement on the TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) pipeline was inked, insists Central Asian gas will become a reality for India, security concerns notwithstanding. “The other day, there was a blast in a pipeline carrying gas from Central Asia to Russia. It was repaired in about 10 days. So what if there is a blast in the pipeline in Afghanistan? It will be quickly repaired,” Afzal, who did not participate in the conference, said. “If tomorrow there is a blast in a building occupied by a VIP, will that building stop being used?” he asked.

Pointing to the major stakes Afghanistan had in the project, he had no doubt of its fruition. “Afghanistan will earn heavy transit fees from the pipeline. It will also generate 3,000 security-related jobs. One day, come what may, the pipeline will become a reality,” Afzal said.

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