Turkmenistan agrees to pipe gas to Afghanistan and Pakistan

May 12, 1999 02:00 AM

Turkmen government officials have agreed to sell natural gas to Afghanistan.The agreement was reached during talks in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat with representatives of the Taleban militia, they said. They did not reveal the specifics of the deal but stated that the gas would be sold to Afghanistan at low cost and transported via a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan.
The pipeline would cross Afghan territory now under the control of the Taleban, which holds most of Afghanistan but has yet to win wide recognition as the legitimate government of the country.
Turkmenistan has not yet recognised the Taleban but is the only former Soviet republic in Central Asia to maintain anything like close ties with the militia, which has been roundly criticised for its hard-line Islamic policies and treatment of women.
Both Ashgabat and the militia are eager to see the pipeline to Pakistan built. Turkmenistan needs the export outlet for its gas, and the Taleban hope to secure investment in war-torn Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the pipeline project has been more or less stalled since late last year, when Unocal announced that it would not participate. Unocal had in the fall of 1997 been appointed the leader of CentGas, the seven-member consortium set up to build the pipeline. Company officials said last year they were abandoning the project because of the need to cut costs in the Caspian region and because of the repeated failure of efforts to resolve the long civil conflict in Afghanistan.
Unocal had held a 54.11% stake in CentGas, and the remaining 45.89% was split between Delta of Saudi Arabia (15%), Inpex and Itochu of Japan (7.22% each), the government of Turkmenistan (7%), Hyundai Engineering and Construction of South Korea (5.54%) and Crescent Group of Pakistan (3.89%).
The U.S. company had planned to lay the pipe along a 1,400-km route from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad gas field to the Pakistani port of Multan on the Arabian Sea at a cost of about $ 1.9 billion -- or $ 2.4 billion if a branch line to India was also built. The 48-inch pipeline would be capable of carrying up to 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
Turkmen, Pakistani and Taleban officials have tried to keep CentGas going in the wake of Unocal's departure. Representatives of all three sides meeting in Islamabad last month to discuss the project said they wanted CentGas to pick a new leader and start work within three months. They also agreed to meet again in Ashgabat for more talks in July.
Pakistan's Petroleum Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said last month that CentGas had been asked to choose a new leader within three months even if no resolution to the situation in Afghanistan was forthcoming. However, it appears that the parties have not yet given up on the prospect of peace. Turkmen diplomats said last week that Taleban officials had indicated willingness to meet in Ashgabat with representatives of the northern alliance led by Ahmed Shah Masood for a third round of peace talks. The diplomats did not saywhen such discussions might take place.

Source: NewsBase
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