The leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan are expected to meet in late December to hammer out an agreement on building a trans-Afghan pipeline that would carry Central Asian energy to southwest Asia, and possibly beyond. Experts caution, however, the project faces numerous obstacles, including political risks and potential financial pitfalls.
The three heads of state Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf and Turkmenistan's Suparmurat Niyazov are scheduled to gather December 26-27 in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat. According to initial estimates, the 1,500-kilometer-long pipeline, stretching from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, would cost upwards of $2 billion to build, and would be capable of transporting about 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually.
Of the three countries involved in the pending deal, Turkmenistan stands to gain the most from much-needed revenues for its natural gas exports. The pipeline would also ease Turkmenistan's dependence on existing Russian pipelines to carry Ashgabat's abundant energy resources to international markets. Afghanistan would benefit from transit revenues and infrastructural development, while Pakistan would receive natural gas for its domestic market. But the pipeline's main long-term customer, India, is not invited to Ashgabat, and has given no indication it wants its natural gas to flow through Pakistani territory.
Many analysts suggest that while the project is sensible in theory, unstable political conditions in all three countries mean that actual pipeline construction may not begin for a long time.
"Pipelines are easier to conceive than to build. The
Mark Berniker is a freelance journalist specializing in Eurasian affairs.