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Leaders Hail Gas Pipeline Project As Start Of Central-South Asia Corridor

(Left to right:) Indian Foreign Minister M.J. Akbar, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at the TAPI pipeline inauguration ceremony in Herat.

Leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan said a new pipeline being built between their countries is the start of a major new energy, road, and communications corridor connecting Central Asia with South Asia.

"South Asia is being connected with Central Asia through Afghanistan after more than a century of division," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said at the inauguration on February 23 in his country's western city, Herat, of the $10 billion pipeline that should carry Turkmen gas to South Asia.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the pipeline would lead to the development of broader road, rail, and communications networks between the countries.

"It will lead from a gas pipeline into an energy and communication corridor," he said.

The Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India (TAPI) project, supported by the United States and the Asian Development Bank, has been touted by energy-rich Turkmenistan for years as a way to get its gas onto world markets.

Turkmenistan, which currently sells gas only to China, started construction on its section of the pipeline in 2015.

But work was delayed on the section in southern Afghanistan, where the pipeline is due to run for hundreds of kilometers through areas controlled by Taliban insurgents fighting the Western-backed government in Kabul.

In a surprise move on February 23, the Taliban issued statements pledging its cooperation, saying the pipeline would be an important element in building up Afghanistan's economic infrastructure.

"There will be no delay in this important national project," it said.

Backers of the planned 1,800-kilometer pipeline say it will ease energy deficits in South Asia and help reduce tensions in the divided region.

Afghan officials say Kabul will earn some $500 million annually in transit duties and that the project will help create thousands of jobs.

Based on reporting by Reuters and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan