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The steering committee on construction of Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan gas pipeline wound up its first meeting in Ashgabat. During two days the heads of oil industries of the three states including members of management and experts of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) discussed organizational and technical issues and financing of the project. There were also representatives of the United States as observers at the meeting.

"Step by step" - as Pakistan's minister of oil and natural resources Usman Aminuddin called it - was perhaps a precise definition of realistic spirit of the participants as regards the future of the project. Yet they have agreed to take these "steps" at short intervals: next meeting to present draft feasibility study of the project will take place in September this year in Kabul. Then they plan to approve it and by doing this give a start to practical work already at the meeting of the Presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan in October in Ashgabat.

All sides are optimistic about perspectives of the pipeline construction financing and possible sources to raise money from. As Asian Development Bank representative Rajiv Kumar said the Bank "will exert all efforts to provide for financing of the project by the time". As is known the cost of construction is about $ 2 bln. which according to ADB experts is "normal for a project of that scope". Along with this Kumar also said that it would be wrong to talk only about commercial interest of ADB. "The primary principals of the ADB are to promote cooperation for the sake of prosperity. That is why we will do our utmost to secure international support for the construction of trans-afghan pipeline".

In principal, despite quite understandable at this stage caution in evaluation of commercial profitability of the project, its political and economical expediency and magnitude is out of question and is gathering more supporters around the world. Lora Kennedy, USA Ambassador in Turkmenistan, in an interview with ITAR-TASS said that realization of trans-afghan pipeline could have a decisive impact on stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and also would allow increasing the volumes of transported gas and diversifying export routs of Turkmen hydrocarbons. German businessmen who recently visited Turkmenistan were of the same opinion. Implementation of trans-afghan pipeline could indeed give a powerful incentive to integration of the whole region into the world economy, removal of the number of social problems, creation of tens of thousands of jobs, attraction of big investments that in the end would result in stability, security and economical grows in the regional dimension.

As regards timing the sides for now suggest that they should not push for the fixed time of "cutting of ribbon" which again illustrates their realistic and sober approach to the matter. But they were quite confidently speaking about some kind of corridor - from 2 to 5 years. It is believed that this time frame could be synchronized with the time of final stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan and consolidation of the central government there. Participants have also commended Pakistan's readiness to direct the pipeline further to India. Such a position of Islamabad especially now is very important.
Participants agreed that ADB would assume responsibilities for collecting of information concerning financial opportunities, negotiations with the potential investors and would submit its recommendations to trilateral committee by September. The work will resume in the autumn.

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Translated by T. Dosmamedov

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