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Turkmenistan, Pakistan, India Sign Trans-Afghan Gas Pipeline Deal

Turkmen officials have said the proposed 1,735-kilometer pipeline could carry 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year.
Representatives of Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and India have signed an agreement aimed at the construction of a pipeline that would cross Afghanistan to bring Turkmen gas to India and Pakistan.

The U.S.-backed deal was signed in the Turkmen Caspian resort of Avaza on May 23.

Representatives of India's state-owned Gail Ltd. and Pakistan's private Inter State Gas System joined Turkmenistan in signing the deal.

The concept of the estimated $7.6 billion pipeline was first raised in the mid-1990s, but construction has yet to begin.

Turkmen officials have said the proposed 1,735-kilometer pipeline could carry 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year.

According to supporters of the project, the pipeline could be operational by 2016, if the security situation in Afghanistan is stable.

The United States has backed the project for years. For Washington, analysts say, the project offers a way to further isolate Iran, which has announced plans to try to build a separate gas pipeline with Pakistan.

Analysts say Turkmenistan, meanwhile, is seeking to expand its gas exports beyond Russia and China.

Some analysts have suggested that the pipeline project also signals a potential warming of economic ties between traditional rivals India and Pakistan.

Irfan Ashraf Qazi, a spokesman for Pakistan's Petroleum Ministry, told RFE/RL that according to the agreement, Turkmenistan is planning to pump 90 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Hesaid Afghanistan would get 14 million cubic meters of this amount, while Pakistan and India would share the rest equally.

According to Qazi, the pipeline will lead from Turkmenistan's South Osman gas field to Herat, Afghanistan, then from Herat to Kandahar, then to Chaman and Zhob, in Pakistan's Balochistan Province, and then to Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan in Pakistan's Punjab Province.

Plans for rates and fees for the pipeline have not yet been publicly disclosed.

The deal was signed after Pakistan and Iran earlier in the spring announced plans for a pipeline to deliver Iranian gas to Pakistan.

The United States warned Pakistan against pursuing that deal with Tehran, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying Islamabad could face "damaging" consequences from the United States over the project.

At that time, Pakistani officials responded by saying Islamabad still wanted the project with Iran to go forward.

With reporting by AP and AFP