According to a media report, “In a development that is likely to give a big impetus to the strategic Turkmenistan -Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan have agreed to form a company by contributing $5 million each for execution of the project and give it shape by September this year”; and ultimately complete it by 2017. This company will accomplish the task in collaboration with some international companies.

Against this backdrop, TAPI was conceived in 1995 by Western multinational oil companies that were working in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in the beginning of 1990s, in view of the Russian refusal to allow them the use of the pipeline network in the countries that it controlled. These companies needed an independent export route avoiding both Iran and Russia. So, the project was formally launched on March 15, 1995, when Pakistan and Turkmenistan signed an inaugural memorandum.

On April 2008, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India signed a framework agreement to buy natural gas from Turkmenistan. As regards the benefits accruing from this trans-regional undertaking, there is no doubt that if completed as envisaged, it will usher in an era of shared economic prosperity for the participating countries, especially Pakistan that is hit by the burgeoning energy crisis and lack of resources to initiate new power generating projects.

It is unfortunate that TAPI had failed to materialise due to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. But even now with no end to it in sight, the project remains as elusive as ever. Hence, the new development - indeed, a welcome move - should not be a matter of rejoicing for Pakistan in the context of its immediate needs.

The same is also true for another trans-regional project known as CASA-1000, which stipulates the construction of a high-voltage power transmission line from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Nevertheless, the only trans-regional project relevant to Pakistan’s situation at the moment is the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project. It is not only important for the energy-starved Pakistan, but also Iran in terms of diluting the impact of UN and US sanctions against it and showing the world that it is not isolated; more so, in its own region. The groundbreaking ceremony of the IP gas pipeline on March 11 2013, despite US threats of possible sanctions against Pakistan, provides the much required props to Iran to reinforce that notion and a perennial lifeline for Pakistan.

It is, indeed, gratifying to note that the PML-N government, by making a healthy break from the past practice of denigrating and discarding the projects initiated by the outgoing government, has wisely decided to own the project and vowed to complete it by the stipulated date of December 2014

The IP gas pipeline is almost indispensable in view of the energy crisis presently gripping the country and its future needs. Its completion would be instrumental to the addition of 4,000MW of electricity into the system. Ever since it was conceived in 1995, it has remained a non-starter due to a number of geopolitical variables. The pressure tactics used by America and the lack of financial resources for the project also played a major role in delaying it.

Coming to its financial aspect, the construction of the Pakistani section of the 781 km of the pipeline and the required equipment is estimated to cost $1.5 billion. However, Iran has committed to provide $500 million and also its construction by an Iranian firm. After the laying of the foundation stone, China too offered a loan of $500 million. Hence, two-thirds of the finances required have already become available and raising the rest of the money should not be a problem, given the importance of the project for the country. The IP gas pipeline will serve our economic interests for a long time to come, besides other benefits that will come through economic integration with the region.

India, which initially was also part of the project known as IPI, withdrew from the venture in view of US opposition. However, it has adequately been compensated through the signing of the agreement for transfer of civilian nuclear technology to India from the US and its allies, like UK and France. Washington has also committed to install power projects with a cumulative power generating capacity of 40,000MW electricity in India. It is well known that the US is not prepared to treat Pakistan at par with India in regards to nuclear deal. So, China has again come to our rescue in this area.

It is helping Pakistan to build Chashma III and IV and is also engaged in the construction of nine power units in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, including the Neelum Jhelum Project. During Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recent visit to Beijing, it has made further commitments for launching new projects in the energy sector, especially hydel and coal-based electricity generating units in which China has exceptional expertise.

Currently, Pakistan has an installed power generating capacity of nearly 23,000MW from all sources. According to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessment report, its demand will increase to more than 49,000MW by the years 2025. The PML-N government, therefore, is moving in the right direction by giving top priority to tackling the energy crisis and adding new power generating capacity to the system. It is hoped that it would remain steadfast in implementing the IP gas pipeline project.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.