India signs 7 pacts with Turkmenistan

Jul 12, 2015 12:00 AM

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Ashgabat on the third and final leg of his ongoing visit to Central Asia, India and Turkmenistan signed seven pacts on Saturday. The two countries also declared that they would jointly combat terrorism in the region.

Government of India  Photo: Laurie Jones / Flickr / Wikipedia

Government of India

During his meeting with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Modi said that India was ready to join hands with Turkmenistan to strengthen efforts in dealing with threats of terrorism, organised crime and illegal drug-trafficking. Identifying terrorism as a major threat to the region, the visiting premier stressed: “We have shared interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and Central Asia. We have also common purpose in combating terrorism and extremism in our region.”

Modi – the first Indian PM to visit Turkmenistan in almost 20 years – also urged President Berdymukhammedov to take all the necessary steps for an early implementation of the USD 10 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project, saying that India was interested in making long-term investment in the former Soviet state’s energy sector. According to Modi, the TAPI project is a “significant initiative in bilateral relationship”. He told the president that New Delhi and Ashgabat should explore the possibility of a land-sea route through Iran for the pipeline, as it would allow India to import gas from Turkmenistan directly.

Meanwhile, President Berdymukhammedov assured his guest that Ashgabat would try hard to implement the strategic project as soon as possible and select its ‘consortium leader’ by September 1. Later, the two leaders attended a signing ceremony during which senior officials of the two countries inked seven pacts, including accords on co-operation in defence and tourism sectors.
On Saturday evening, the two leaders attended a joint press conference in the Turkmen capital. In the presence of media persons and delegates of the two countries, Modi thanked Turkmenistan for inviting India to join the Ashgabat Agreement on trade and transit. Laying emphasis on connectivity, the premier said: “If we use the Iran route, Ashgabat is the first capital we would reach in Central Asia. Together with the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway link and India’s proposed investment in Chahbahar Port in Iran, these initiatives will strengthen connectivity between our countries.” He also said: “As India deepens its relations with Central Asia, Turkmenistan will play a crucial role in it.”

Turkmenistan – which has a population of more than five million people – has the world’s fourth largest natural gas reserves, but lacks a pipeline to send gas to India. The country also has considerable oil deposits, although its 80% area is covered by the Karakum Desert. Since the death of strongman Saparmurat Niyazov in 2002, the Central Asian country has been slowly opening up its market. In the last 10 years, China has emerged as a major player in oil and gas extraction in Turkmenistan. The US has always pushed for the TAPI pipeline. Very recently, China has taken up the issue. If it succeeds, India will have its first land connection to Central Asia. For the South Asian country, a pipeline through Iran to the Persian Gulf would also work.

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