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Security remains biggest challenge in ambitious TAPI gasline project
Kabir Taneja  New Delhi | 10th Jun 2012

The $7 billion gas pipeline project will run through India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

s negotiations continue for the $7 billion gas pipeline project between India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan, security concerns dominate the implementation of the project which runs through some of the most volatile and lawless regions of the world.

According to the latest estimates, nearly 15,000-18,000 security men will be required to keep an eye on the pipeline and protect it from terror attacks. Afghanistan has reportedly offered up to 7,000 troops to guard the project as it is set to be one of the biggest financial beneficiaries.

However, many experts and policymakers are not yet convinced with the necessity or the long term aim of the project. Questions are being raised whether TAPI is purely an energy project or a foreign policy showpiece as the project's promoters prepare to begin road shows starting August to rope in investors.

"It is unclear what (India's) primary purpose of the pipeline is," says Nitin Pai, founder and fellow, The Takshashila Institution. "Any project that relies on Pakistan is fundamentally risky. Even before the resurgence of the Baloch insurgency, pipelines were routinely targeted in inter-tribal political violence. Unless the fundamental security problem is tackled, gas revenues, like drug revenues, flow into the war chests of militant groups."

In Afghanistan, the pipeline is to be constructed alongside the highway running from Herat to Kandahar, Quetta and Multan in Pakistan and ending in Fazilka, Punjab. The 1,735 km-long pipeline will start from the Lolotan gas field in southern Turkmenistan. TAPI will be operated by a special purpose consortium company (SPCC) and led by a commercial entity (consortium lead).

Many energy experts however believe that in today's technology driven age, the pipeline can be successfully protected from possible terrorist attacks. Some Western companies have already reportedly offered technology which is capable of independently managing the pipeline per sector, which then can be disconnected from the rest of the pipeline via satellite control in case of a terrorist attack or any other such security situation. It is no secret that TAPI has a strong backing of the US government which is actively helping all concerned countries by offering both expertise and technology.

"TAPI is a good project and will definitely help build a stronger south Asia," says a source close to the project. "However there do remain security challenges."

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