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It would bring economic progress and prosperity for the peoples and also enhance regional cooperation.

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI
Islamabad
June 10 - 16, 2002

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan have signed a two billion dollars agreement to construct a gas pipeline from Daulatabad field in Turkenistan to Gwadar in Pakistan through Afghanistan. The agreement was signed by President General Pervez Musharraf, Chairman Afghan interim administration Hamid Karzai and Turkmenistan President Supermurat Niyazov at a ceremony in Islamabad last Thursday.

Latter addressing a joint news conference along with Chairman interim administration of Afghanistan and President of Turkmenistan, President General Pervez Musharraf said that on completion, the project would provide the shortest route for the export of hydro-carbon resources from Central Asian States to Far East, Japan and West besides benefiting the countries themselves that is Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. General Pervez Musharraf said an LNG plant would be constructed at Gwadar for the conversion of gas and its export.

He said with the gradual return of peace and normalcy in Afghanistan, they were confident that this mega project would be realised in the near future. It would bring economic progress and prosperity for the peoples and also enhance regional cooperation. Construction of road and rail links from Central Asia to Afghanistan and Pakistan would also open immense opportunities and increase people to people contact and boost economic activities. These links would enable Central Asia to reach warm waters. The air services between Islamabad and Kabul had already started and he hoped to re-establish air links with Turkmenistan and other Central Asian States shortly. The President said trade and economic cooperation between the three countries came under discussion and they were unanimously of the view that the existing volume of trade that the existing volume of trade was far below the potential. It was decided to take steps for promotion of trade activities. He said they decided to form three working groups, each dealing with gas pipeline, road and rail links and trade and economic links.

General Pervez Musharraf said Pakistan stands by its support to Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. This commitment was given by the President who was asked if Pakistan would allow Iranian gas pipeline to India via Pakistan in the changed circumstances. The President said that the country was already committed to it and any other gas pipeline. "We would accept the pipeline to pass through the country." It was also to our advantage, he said adding that the country's stand on the issue remained unchanged.

The Chairman of Afghan interim administration Hamid Karzai said stability in his country was very satisfactory. He said there was peace all over the country, transport was moving all over. The President of Turkmenistan Safarmurad Niazov said the total length of the gas pipeline would be 1500 kilometers. He said his country had gas reserves of twenty-three trillion cubic feet.

This landmark project augurs well for development of an economically backward region of the world. Construction of gas pipeline along with required infrastructure i.e roads and rail link in three countries will no doubt take the economic and trade cooperation among them to new heights. With this kind of cooperation in view, Pakistan has been trying its best to create conditions conducive to bolster its ties with the Central Asian Republics However, Pakistan's desire to enter into a deeper relationship with emerging economies of the Central Asia could not succeed because of volatile situation in Afghanistan which provides a viable link between Pakistan and that region.

This gas pipeline project too was visualised over a decade back and some progress made towards its initiation but the understanding reach for the purpose and several exchange of visits proved futile exercise because of instability in Afghanistan. In the absence of a stable Government in Afghanistan, there was no guarantee of security of this important pipeline involving investment of billions of dollars. Now with American forces firmly placed in Afghanistan at the charge of security related issues, the forces behind the project have found it an opportune time to reactivate it. Anyhow as the project has the potential to give tremendous boost to the economy of the three countries, signing of an agreement that provides a framework for proceeding further is a welcome development. Its construction and establishment of a LNG plant at Gwadar to liquefy the natural gas from Turkmenistan for onward export to Middle East and Far East are going to play a vital role not only in bringing the three countries closer through mutually beneficial cooperation but enhanced economic and trade activities would provide employment opportunities to thousands of people.

There are, however, some questions agitating the mind. There are no clear indication as to who is going to fund this huge project which seems to be beyond the funding capacity of the three countries signing the agreement. Last time, a big consortium led by an American firm was formed but this time no such arrangement seems to be in place as yet. May the forces behind the project were waiting for the accord to be initialed first. Secondly, what would be its impact on the future of Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline the feasibility of which is also being carried out with Iran pushing hard for its implementation. Though, for obvious reason, Americans have more interest in Turkmenistan pipeline but Iranian pipeline too has immense benefits for Pakistan and work on that should also be pursued despite so-called apprehensions by experts that only one north-south pipeline was economically viable.