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Energy revolution in the pipeline as gas agreement inked

Talek Harris

Agence France-Presse - May 30, 2002

ISLAMABAD, May 30 (AFP) - Ground-breaking gas and oil pipelines expected to revolutionise world energy supplies moved a step closer to reality when the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan inked an agreement here on Thursday.

The three leaders agreed to launch a feasibility study and look for ways of financing a 1,500-kilometre (975-mile) gas link from Turkmenistan's Daulatabad gas field through Afghanistan to the southwestern Pakistani port of Gawadar. They also discussed an oil link along the same route.

"This communication will provide the shortest route for the transportation of petrochemical resources from Central Asia to the Far East, Japan and the West," Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said at the signing ceremony.

"With the gradual return of peace and normalcy in Afghanistan we are confident that this project would be realised in the near future," he added.

Analysts have hailed the pipeline as an enormous breakthrough which will open up Central Asia's vast fossil-fuel resources to the wider world for the first time.

A conversion plant at Gawadar will liquify the gas so it can be shipped abroad.

"This development is rather significant," A.R. Kamal, director of the Pakistan Institute of Development, told AFP.

"If it materialises and the basic problem that was security in Afghanistan is removed, then it is really a big breakthrough.

"This project has been there since the early 1990s but peace and stability in Afghanistan was the main factor which prevented it."

But the Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai said his country's continuing security problems -- with British troops announcing a fresh mission against al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants just a day earlier -- would not scupper the historic project.

"The incidents that are reported are really incidents that even the next village doesn't come to know about," Karzai said.

"For a country that has gone to war for 23 years we now have peace prevailing all over the country. We have transportation taking place, we have movement of people taking place. We have more than 800,000 of our refugees returned from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Kazakhstan."

He added: "The stability in Afghanistan is very, very satisfactory, keeping in mind what we had five months ago."

Musharraf even said he was prepared to put aside his differences with arch-rival India to supply the neighbouring country with fuel.

"Any pipeline going through Pakistan to India we would accept," he said.

"We are also doing it for ourselves, frankly -- it's in our interests. Therefore our stand on a gas pipeline to India remains unchanged whatever the level of tension."

Musharraf, Karzai and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov also discussed road and rail links and ways of working together to boost trade.

The leaders agreed to set up working groups on the gas pipeline, transport links and trade and will meet again in October.

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