KABUL, May 12: Afghan interim ruler Hamid Karzai will hold talks with his Pakistani and Turkmenistan counterparts later this month about plans for a pipeline through his country to export Turkmenistan’s rich oil and gas reserves to the Indian sub-continent, an Afghan minister said on Sunday.

The summit follows a meeting earlier this month between Karzai and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov about the giant project estimated to cost two billions dollars, said Mohammad Alim Razim, minister for Mines and Industries.

“The meeting will take place later this month in Pakistan. It is hoped that they will reach an agreement after thorough talks over the nuts and bolts of the project,” Razim told Reuters in an interview.

Building of the 850 kms pipeline, described by many as the new “Great Game” of the new millennium, was a serious competition issue between the American oil company UNOCAL Corp and Bridas of Argentine during the five years’ rule of the Taliban regime, which the United States toppled from power as part of its war on terrorism.

Razim said UNOCAL was the “lead company” among those that would build the pipeline, which is aimed at injecting 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually to Pakistan and beyond it through southern Afghanistan.

He said Karzai would propose during the summit the building of a road parallel to the pipeline, subsidiary pipelines to villages close to the main line and also the injection of Afghan gas from northern areas, as well as from the south-western province of Helmand for export.

“The work on the project will start after an agreement is expected to be struck at the coming summit,” Razim said.

Afghanistan would demand transit fees for the export of gas and oil on the basis of international norms.

He also said the Afghan government would press to take over ownership of the pipeline after 30 years.

Razim said the pipeline, the biggest foreign project in Afghanistan’s history, would provide job opportunities for thousands of Afghans.

“The Afghan side assures all sides about the security of the pipeline and will take all responsibilities for it.” He said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been surveying routes for transferring local gas from northern Afghan areas to Kabul and also to iron ore mines at the Haji Gak pass to the west of Kabul.

“ADB will announce its conclusion soon. One pipe is planned to bring gas to Kabul and the second one will pass through the mountains to Haji Gak for iron exploitation purposes,” Razim said.

The pipeline will be built using funds from donor countries for the reconstruction of Afghanistan as well as from ADB loans, Razim added.—Reuters

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