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PM to skip meet on TAPI gas pipeline

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will skip the summit on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline at Ashgabat.

S. P. S Pannu | December 7, 2010 | Updated 13:44 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will skip the summit on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline at Ashgabat, which will be attended by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and the Presidents of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

According to sources, the Prime Minister has asked petroleum minister Murli Deora to lead the official delegation on his behalf to the Turkmenistan capital for the signing of the inter-governmental agreement on the pipeline.

The Prime Minister has expressed his inability to attend the pipeline summit as the date clashes with the India-EU summit in Brussels on December 10-11.

In a sense this will also save the Prime Minister the embarrassment of having to share the table with an unpredictable Zardari who has failed to live up to his promises on being serious about controlling terrorist activities launched against India from Pakistani soil.

According to senior officials, the India-EU summit is more important in view of the expanding economic relations with the European countries and the key role in global economic cooperation that India now plays as a member of the G-20.

Officials claim the clash of dates "is a coincidence". However, it will clearly drive home the message to Islamabad that India has a greater role to play in world affairs both in political and economic terms.

While India does not want to play spoilsport on the TAPI project, it clearly cannot ignore the fact that the pipeline has to pass through hostile Taliban territory in Afghanistan and the rebellious Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan.

Apart from the security issue, the price at which the gas is to be supplied and the transition fee that Pakistan will demand have to be sorted out. These aspects are expected to be flagged by Deora when he goes for signing of the inter-governmental agreement aimed to take the pipeline project ahead.

These are critical issues that were involved with the Iran- Pakistan- India pipeline as well and which could not be resolved despite several meetings between the three countries and the heady enthusiasm of former petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Pakistan had insisted on an exorbitant transition fee and could not satisfy India on the security concerns over the pipeline given the open rebellion in its tribal belt.

Security is an all- important issue as apart from the huge investment in the pipeline India will have to invest thousands of crores to set up power plants and fertiliser factories for using the gas, and any disruption in supplies would lead to heavy losses and the entire investment going waste.

Any penalties for disruption of supplies are of little consequence in such a scenario.

According to industry sources, the price of natural gas will pose a tricky issue as large deposits of shale gas discovered in America have emerged as a game changer. With the US not as dependent on gas imports, the prices have come down and could continue to do so in future.

The proposed TAPI pipeline will start from the Dauletabad gas field in southeast Turkmenistan.

After a 145- km stretch through the home country it will cross into Afghanistan to cover 735 km. It will then enter Pakistan and traverse another 800 km before it enters India at Fazilka in Punjab.

Courtesy: Mail Today 

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