HERAT -- Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Turkmenistan Friday (February 23) ceremonially broke ground on the Afghan section of an ambitious, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline expected to help ease energy deficits in South Asia.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Shri M. J. Akbar and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov joined Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Afghan-Turkmen border in Herat Province for the ground-breaking ceremony.
The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline will stretch 1,840km and is scheduled to begin pumping natural gas from Turkmenistan's giant Galkynysh gas field by the beginning of 2020.
While the pipeline will traverse Afghanistan, raising security concerns, the bulk of the 33 billion cubic metres of gas to be pumped annually through the conduit will be purchased by Pakistan and India.
The overall funding picture for the mammoth gas pipeline remains unclear, with commercial energy giants such as France's Total failing to follow up on reported interest in the project.
'A new page in co-operation'
Speaking at the event, Ghani said the pipeline would "unite [the] countries", AFP reported.
"There were pessimistic voices, but now we are witnessing the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline," he said. "Our message is a message of regional co-operation."
"The people of Herat, Nimroz, Kandahar and Helmand have a clear commitment to stand by Afghan security forces and help with this project," he added.
India's commitment to the pipeline has previously been questioned because of its relationship with Pakistan and easy access to liquefied natural gas markets.
But Akbar hailed the project as "a symbol of our goals" and "a new page in co-operation" among the four countries in a speech at the ceremony.