Islamabad:  Backers of the $10 billion Turkmenistan- Afghanistan- Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline will tomorrow discuss plans for a special security force to guard it from terrorist attacks.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and India’s Vice President will meet to finalize security plans and reassure investors when they meet for the ground-breaking ceremony in Ashgabat.

Turkmenistan holds the world’s second largest gas reserves which could help solve the power crises which have stunted economic development in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Fears over how the four partners will protect its 1800 kilometres of pipeline from Taliban and other terrorist attacks have delayed progress in making the dream a reality. The pipeline enters Afghanistan at Herat but crosses Taliban strongholds in Kandahar before entering Balochistan where nationalist and Jihadist insurgents pose a real threat.

The project was first backed by the United States in early 1990s but was thwarted first by Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime, the war which ousted him and the insurgency which followed it.

Afghanistan’s current president Ashraf Ghani has now pledged to guarantee security for the pipeline’s 700 Km passage through his country but recent Taliban attacks have highlighted the continuing threat. Its 26 hour siege of Kandhar Airport earlier this week and capture of Northern Kunduz province in September demonstrated its capacity to strike at government installations throughout the country.

Pakistan and India, which along with Afghanistan will each invest five percent of the project’s cost, are hoping a security solution can be found hoping to deliver the gas they both urgently need. “There are two draft proposals about the safety of the pipeline project which the leaders of four countries will discuss”, a senior Turkmen diplomat told The Nation.

These include establishing a multinational security force consisting of Turkmen, Afghan, Pakistani and Indian guards to and each of the countries guaranteeing security on their own section of the pipeline.  China has also declared its interest in contributing to the project.

“China and Turkmenistan are negotiating about how China can invest in the project to take off in 2016”, said a senior official in Pakistan’s Petroleum Ministry.

Mobin Saulat, Managing Director of Pakistan’s  Inter State Gas Services (ISGS) said that China is on the verge of joining the TAPI project to get gas for the industries it plans to set up in Pakistan as part of the mega China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “We are expecting the signing of a safe passage agreement early next year”, Saulat said. Pakistan expects to take 1325 MMcfd of natural gas from the TAPI pipeline once it is established and running at full capacity.