ISLAMABAD, May 30: Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement on Thursday for a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline which would run from Daulatabad gas-fields in Turkmenistan to Gwadar.

The agreement was inked by President Gen Pervez Musharraf, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Interim Afghan Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai following a summit of the three leaders.

Besides signing the agreement for laying down the 1500-km pipeline, the three leaders decided to take concrete measures for developing road and rail links and improving trade among the three countries.

They set up three working groups: one would supervise the implementation of gas project, and the other two would push for the development of rail and road links, and increasing the volume of trade.

“This mega-project has been on the anvil for the past many years but it could not be implemented because of instability in Afghanistan,” President Musharraf told a press conference.

Flanked by Mr Karzai and Mr Niyazov, Gen Musharraf hoped that with the return of normalcy in Afghanistan this project would be realized soon.

A plant of liquefied natural gas would be installed at Gwadar for export of hydrocarbon to the markets of Far East and Japan, he added.

He pointed out that a feasibility study had been conducted a few years ago which would be reviewed and updated before inviting international tenders and seeking finances from international financial institutions.

Trade and economic cooperation also came under discussion and three leaders were unanimous that the existing level of trade among their countries was far less than the optimum potential, Gen Musharraf said.

Giving details of the measures the three leaders agreed to take, he said visa restrictions would be eased and trade barriers would be removed.

The development of road and rail links would open enormous economic opportunities for the Central Asian states to reach warm waters, he added.

President Niyazov said that Turkmenistan had known gas reserves of 23 trillion cubic-feet in Daulatabad alone. He said the project was in the interest of all the three countries and added that Afghanistan would earn $300 million by providing conduit for the pipeline.

In reply to a question about the recent violence in some parts of Afghanistan where the proposed pipeline would pass, Mr Karzai said peace and stability was fast returning to Afghanistan.

He said that over 800,000 Afghan refugees had returned to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan over the past few months. Afghan immigrants from the United States and Europe were also returning in big numbers, he added.

Mr Karzai said that Loya Jirga was slated for June 10 and added that would be another step towards the establishment of a legitimate government and restoring stability in the war-torn country.

He said that Afghan people who had gone through the miseries of war for the last two decades, had the resolve to have peace and prosperity.

Answering a question about the proposed Iran-India gas pipeline project, President Musharraf said Pakistan was committed to the project as it was in the interest of all the three countries.

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