Major Afghan oil deal signed

The leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan on Friday reached a long-awaited agreement for a pipeline to carry Turkmenistan’s natural gas to the Indian Ocean via Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, Pakistans Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed the ambitious accord to build a 1,500-kilometre, two-billion-dollar trans-Afghan gas pipeline.

The pipeline deal to connect Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad fields to seaports in Pakistan across the mountains of Afghanistan brought to an end 20 years of laborious negotiations mired in regional conflict.

US energy company Unocal led efforts to build the line but its plans were scuppered in 1998 when US cruise missiles struck al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in response to attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

However, since the fall of Afghanistan’s fundamentalist Taliban regime last year, the project has been catapulted back onto the energy agenda by regional leaders hoping it will bring enormous wealth to their impoverished central Asian region.

The project is expected to be completed in four years, although many observers are sceptical about its prospects given the endemic political instability in the region.

Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan are still in discussions with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other multinational lending agencies to decide whether to extend the pipeline to India, according to an official in Islamabad quoted on Thursday by the specialist International Oil Daily.

The ADB has agreed to allocate a one million dollar loan for a feasibility study expected to be completed by next August, the daily said. - Sapa-AFP

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