By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) - Afghanistan on Friday hosted top officials from Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India for the groundbreaking ceremony of the multi-billion dollar "TAPI" gas pipeline project -- representing the initials of the four countries --, which will also link them via a network of roads, railways, and fiber optics.
After the completion of the pipeline in the source country Turkmenistan, construction work began in Afghanistan on Friday in a ceremony held in the Serhetabat province of Turkmenistan near the Turkmen-Afghan border.
President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani hosted Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Mobashar Jawed Akbar as well as a number of officials and diplomats from the countries involved.
Underlining the importance of regional cooperation and connectivity, President Ghani said on the occasion that Herat had in the past 500 years been completely destroyed a total of eight times (by different invaders) but the city still managed to emerge from its ruins to become a regional hub in the heart of Asia.
“This hope that has developed among the people is because of the growing regional cooperation, and I hope the level of optimism that has developed here also extends in the whole region, and especially the example of Turkmenistan (in regional cooperation) is reciprocated in other countries as well,” Ghani said.
He underlined that Afghanistan wanted to set up a platform for economic cooperation, adding, "We all should understand that with this cooperation policy, our people and all of us are winners. We can get economic prosperity, stability and social security."
With Afghanistan expecting to earn $500 million USD in transit duties annually from the project, Ghani said they had laid “not only the foundation of a project, but also a vision to eradicate poverty and bring prosperity together."
He added that the project would be the beginning of a process in which people’s distrust would be eradicated.
“It is the start of trust in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Abbasi also spoke at the event and echoed Ghani’s words by saying that the project only had winners.
“I thank the three countries for contributing to the implementation of the project,” he said.
Conceived in the 1990s, practical work on this mega project linking the energy-rich Central Asia with energy-starved South Asia via war-ravaged Afghanistan began in 2015 and is slated for completion in 2019.
As part of the $10-billion project, up to 33 billion cubic meters of gas will be carried from the Galkynysh gas field in Turkmenistan to the town of Fazilka in Indian Punjab via a 1,814-km (1,127 miles) pipeline, passing through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan and India will receive over 1.3 billion cubic feet (36 million cubic meters) of gas daily from the pipeline, while Afghanistan is set to receive 0.5 billion cubic feet (14.2 million cubic meters) daily.
Originating in Turkmenistan's Dawlatabad region, the pipeline will stretch almost 150 kilometers to Afghanistan. Some 750 kilometers of the pipeline will pass through Afghanistan's Herat, Farah, Helmand and Kandahar provinces, eventually reaching Pakistan.
Alongside TAPI, another project named the “Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan 500 kilovolts Line” (TAP-500) will transfer Turkmenistan’s electricity to Pakistan through Afghanistan.
This project will earn $110 million USD annually as a transit fee for the war-torn country.
Kabul and Ashgabat have also agreed to develop a 13-km railway link between the two countries.
* Sayed Khodaberdi Sadat contributed to the reporting from Serhetabat, Turkmenistan, and Firdevs Yuksel contributed to the writing of the story.