Turkmenistan: Work Begins on Afghan Part of TAPI, High-Voltage Cables
Leaders watched by satellite TV as sections of pipe, representing the Turkmen and Afghan portions of TAPI, were symbolically welded together.
Work officially began February 23 on the Afghan section of the TAPI pipeline that will, if completed, be used to export natural gas from a giant field in Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
In a day rich with ceremony, construction also got underway on a high-voltage power line across the region and dozens of train carriages laden with oil products and food were sent across a newly built spur of railroad joining Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
Watching by satellite TV link-up from the Islim-Cheshme train station in the southeastern corner of Turkmenistan, the presidents of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan’s prime minister and India’s foreign minister watched as sections of pipe, representing the Turkmen and Afghan portions of TAPI, were symbolically welded to one another.
TAPI is designed to span more than 1,800 kilometers, starting from the Galkynysh mega-field in Turkmenistan and terminate in the town of Fazilka in India’s Punjab State. The pipeline would be able to carry up to 33 billion cubic meters of gas every year. Of that volume, India and Pakistan would buy around 14 billion cubic meters apiece, with the remaining 5 billion going to Afghanistan.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said “construction of the section of pipeline going through Turkmenistan is being carried out according to the general plan.”
His Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, said the start to work had put paid to “skeptical voices.”
“Today we are all witnesses to the construction of TAPI, for which I want to congratulate you all,” Ghani said. “We will turn TAPI into a linking corridor that will unite the region. This is not just an economic, but also a political project.”
The overall cost of the project, which is currently slated for completion by December 2019, is one of multiple enigmas shrouding the undertaking. Turkmen estimates appear to hover around the $7-8 billion mark. Others see the final budget coming in at well over $10 billion.
As leader of the Isle of Man-based TAPI Pipeline Company construction consortium, state-run Turkmengaz is required to source 85 percent of equity. The other consortium members are the Afghan Gas Corporation, Pakistan's Inter State Gas Systems and India’s GAIL and hold 5-percent stakes apiece.
Work also began on the same day on other important pieces of infrastructure, such as the 500-kilovolt power transmission line running from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. An 800-kilometer fiber optic cable is also going to be built alongside TAPI. The primary purpose of the cable will be to monitor operations on the pipeline, but officials say it will also enable the transfer of data from Europe to southeast Asia at speeds of 100 Gigabits per second, and eventually 6 Terabytes per second.
A 13-kilometer train track joining the Turkmen town of Serhetabat and Torghundi in Afghanistan also inaugurated on February 23 saw a locomotive pulling five passenger carriages and another 50 carriages carrying oil products, food and industrial goods, as well as building materials. This is the second train line joining the two countries to have been opened since November 2016.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.