ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - India signed up on Thursday to join a multi-billion dollar Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project, to secure another source of energy for its fast growing economy.
Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora and counterparts from Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan signed a framework agreement for the $7.6 billion pipeline, that they aim to start building in 2010.
The idea of piping gas from Turkmenistan to south Asia has been little more than a dream for years because of the turmoil in Afghanistan, but the ministers said they were determined to complete the project.
“All sides are strongly committed to the finalisation of the project,” said Pakistani Petroleum Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif.
Turkmenistan has never officially disclosed its gas reserves, but according to a statement from the ministers issued after the meeting, the country agreed to provide all parties with technical specifications of gas supply for the project.
The 1,680-km Turkemenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) will supply 3.2 billion cubic feet per day (90 MMSCMD) and gas flows are expected from 2015.
Afghanistan proposed to off-take up to 5 million cubic metres a day (MMCMD) in the first two years while its consumption would rise to 14 MMCMD from the third year, according to the ministers’ statement.
Pakistan and India agreed in principle to share equally the remaining volume.
The two South Asian neighbours are also considering another cross-border scheme to bring in gas from Iran.
“We are interested in both the projects as we need gas,” Deora told Reuters late on Wednesday.
While the United States supports the concept of a pipeline from Turkmenistan that would help Afghanistan, it has tried to discourage Pakistan and India from dealing with Iran because of its suspected ambition to become a nuclear weapons state.
Both India and Pakistan are under pressure to secure energy supplies needed to fuel economies that rank among the fastest growing in the world.
There has been little economic integration between the two neighbours, who have fought three wars since Pakistan’s formation following the partition of British-ruled India in 1947.
Negotiations are more advanced for the pipeline from Iran, although pricing is one of the critical issues still to be resolved.
“Pakistan and India will hold discussions on Friday on transit fees and transportation tariff,” said an Indian official.
Ideas for such a pipeline have been floated for years, but support for the project only revived after India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004 to end decades of enmity.
Additional reporting by Aftab Borka