ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Construction of a much-anticipated $10-billion pipeline transporting natural gas from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India began Sunday, 25 years after the inception of the project.
The so-called Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project aims to export up to 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year through the approximately 1,800-kilometer pipeline.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Indian vice president, Hamid Ansari, together with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedoy attended the groundbreaking ceremony in the south central city of Mary, Turkmenistan.
Addressing Sunday's ceremony, Prime Minister Sharif said TAPI is not just a gas transit initiative connecting energy-rich Central Asia with energy-starved South Asia but a project that will open doors for greater regional economic collaboration and integration
"Importantly, this flagship project will usher in a new era and transform the lives of the millions of our people, making TAPI a symbol of shared prosperity and socio-economic development," he said.
Observers have long termed the proposed projectas a "pipeline of regional peace" once completed because it could go a long way in bringing archrivals, India and Pakistan closer and promote stability in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Experts say TAPI presents an opportunity for regional cooperation at an unprecedented scale linking the economies of the four countries together and enhanced energy trading between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
India will pay up $250-million in transit fees to Pakistan which will pay the same amount in transit fees to Afghanistan.
The project is considered a key opportunity to help ease growing energy deficits in India and Pakistan. Officials in Turkmenistan expect gas link will be fully operational by the end of 2019.
Pakistani officials say they expect to receive gas via TAPI in 2019.
But ensuring security of the proposed pipeline remains a major challenge as it would pass through insurgency-hit parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.