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The governments of Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan on December 9, 2003, signed a formal protocol agreement in Islamabad after two days of talks on a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline project linking the three countries, Platts reports. Pakistan's Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Nouraiz Shakoor Khan, Turkmenistan's Deputy Prime Minister Yolly Gurbanmuradov, Afghanistan's Mines and Industry Minister Dr Mehfooz Nedai and Asian Development Bank representative Najeeb Jung led their respective delegations to the meeting and signed the agreement. The proposed TAP gas pipeline would move up to 30-bil cu m/year of natural gas from the Daulatabad fields in southeast Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan. Pakistan's Nouraiz said some leading firms had shown interest in forming a consortium for the construction of the pipeline, which cost is estimated at over $3.5-bil.

According to Xinhua the feasibility report of the Pakistan-Turkmenistan-Afghanistan gas pipeline project had been presented to the Steering Committee of the project that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) put up more than a million dollars to carry out. The report on the pipeline will be finalized during the next six months after necessary consultations and amendments proposed by the concerned countries, the ADB's evaluation of the capacity of underground gas storage in Pakistan, Pakistan's gas needs and the Daulatabad reserves have been finalized. The Daulatabad field is said to be home to the world's fifth largest gas reserves, Shakoor told a press conference in Islamabad after the meeting. He also disclosed that the committee had formed a high level working group consisting of two members from each country, which will coordinate with the Asian Development Bank in implementing the project.

As Agence France Presse reported, the Steering Committee said it had chosen the so-called southern route stretching from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. The 1,635-kilometre pipeline will carry gas from the rich Turkmen oil fields at Daulatabad via Kandahar to the central Pakistani city of Multan. The route was chosen over a proposed northern path, which would have run through the Afghan capital Kabul on to the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Speaking at the press conference Nidai, the minister from Afghanistan, said the security of the pipeline would be assured. "Afghanistan is committed to providing security nationwide and as part of the security measures that the country is taking, the pipeline just happens to be within that security measures," he told reporters. According to him "Afghanistan is already progressing with demilitarization and building its national army."

As for the possible participation of India in the project the Pakistani minister said the project was viable with or without the participating of India adding that the option for it to do so would be left open. He also said that he next meeting of the TAP stakeholders would be held in the middle of next year in Islamabad, PPI reported.

(Based on reports by "Platts", "Xinhua", "Agence France Presse" and "PPI" news agencies)

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