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Bonhomie Marks Opening of TAPI Gas Pipeline
SERHETABAT/KABUL: The long-awaited mega gas pipeline project of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) connecting the energy-rich Central Asian nation with the South Asian countries was inaugurated on Friday, with leaders of the four countries attending its groundbreaking ceremony in Serhetabat followed by another in Herat.

In an exceptional show of regional cooperation, the quartet aims to complete the 1,840-kilometre pipeline at a cost of $8 billionwithin two years to begin pumping 33 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas annually from Turkmenistan`s giant Galkynysh gas field amid security concerns in the war-weary Afghanistan though the Afghan Taliban have vowed to protectthe pipehne.

While the project has allowed Turkmenistan to find new consumers in Asia by reducing its dependence on Beijing, which buys about 35bcm gas annually, it is also being advocated by the United States over an alternative pipeline to bring gas from Iran through Pakistan and into India.

Prime Minister Shahid Khagan Abbasi along with President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani and Minister of State for External Affairs of India M.J. Akbar attended the groundbreaking ceremony at theTurkmenistan border with Afghanistan.

`TAPI will lead from a gas pipeline into an energy and communication corridor,` Mr Abbasi said, adding that as well as providing energy, the pipeline would underpin development of road, rail and communications networks.

Calling diversification of gas deliveries an `important part of politics`, Mr Berdimuhamedov said work on the Turkmen section of the pipeline was still under way.

While India`s commitment to the pipeline was previously questioned over its relationship with Pakistan and easy access to liquefied natural gas markets seen as potential stumbling blocks, its external affairs minister hailed the project as `a symbol of our goals` and `a new page in cooperation` between the four countries.

Terming the project a message for future generation, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said: `We hope our next generation will see this pipeline as the foundation of a joint position in our region which is aimed at improving our economy, providing jobs and increasing our security, all in our fight against extremists.` He added that South Asia was being connected with Central Asia through Afghanistan after more than a century of division.

Security has been a leading concern leading up to the inauguration as Afghanistan claims to have devised a detailed security plan to protect the pipeline construction as well as the pipeline. In a telephone interview, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AP that they were ready to guarantee the pipeline`s security. `We are ready to protect TAPI. It is good and important and vital for the economy of Afghanistan,` he said, noting the pipeline had been under consideration during the Taliban rule thatendedin2001.

Earlier, addressing a groundbreaking cere-mony of the link-up projects of electricity transmission lines and fibre optics at Serhatabad, Prime Minister Abbasi said the TAPI gas pipeline project would unite people, boost socio-economic development and bring in peace dividends to the entire region. Mr Abbasi, who was accompanied by Minister of State for Energy Jam Kamal Khan, said TAPI would provide Pakistan the much needed gas security, as it would help meet 10 per cent of Pakistan`s energy needs and 20 per cent of its natural gas requirements. He assured the Turkmen, Afghan and Indian leaders of Pakistan`s full cooperation in making TAPI a success. He said the Turkmen president owing to his vision converted the TAPI project into an energy and communications corridor which would have IT connectivity, besides road and rail links.

He said he did not see just one gas pipeline but several gas pipelines to overcome energy shortages. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was the most efficient connectivity link for the Central Asian states and its linkage with the One Belt One Road would open a new world of opportunities, he added. The prime minister also congratulated the ADB for its role in making the project a reality.-Agencies
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