7,000-strong Afghan security force to guard Tapi gas pipeline: minister

KABUL: Afghanistan will raise a 7,000-member security force to guard the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) gas pipeline project, Radio Pakistan reported.

Afghan Mines and Petroleum Minister Daud Shah Saba told the country’s Upper House of Parliament that the force will provide security during the implementation of the project and demining the route of the pipeline.

Saba said procurement for demining will be complete by next month and the work on the clearing of the pipeline passage would begin in April 2016.

Construction on the $10 billion Tapi pipeline began earlier this December some 25 years after the inception of the project. The pipeline is to be completed by December 2019, the Turkmen president said at the groundbreaking ceremony in Ashgabat.

Earlier this month, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered state companies Turkmengaz and Turkmengazneftstroi to begin building the isolated republic’s section of the pipeline.

Overall, the pipeline will stretch 1,800 kilometres and is likely to cost more than $10 billion.

The Tapi project could help ease growing energy deficits in Asian giants Pakistan and India.

For Turkmenistan, which has been hit by low energy prices and dependence on China for the vast majority of its gas sales, Tapi is a key opportunity to diversify its exports.

But uncertainty hangs over the costly project. Aside from the risks associated with a link traversing war-torn Afghanistan, the four-country consortium has yet to confirm the participation of a foreign commercial partner willing to help finance it.

The project is politically complex, requiring cooperating governments, and logistically challenging, as the pipeline would pass through areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan plagued by Taliban and separatist insurgents.

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