Indian Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, from left, shake hands during a meeting in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Saturday Dec. 11, 2010. – Photo by AP

KABUL: Afghanistan will deploy up to 7,000 troops to secure a major transnational gas pipeline slated to run through some of the most dangerous parts of the war-torn country, an official said on Sunday.

The pledge comes a day after Turkmenistan signed broad agreements with Afghanistan, India and Pakistan at a summit in its capital Ashgabat on the ambitious venture.

The 1,700-kilometre (1,050-mile) TAPI pipeline, Ashgabat's dream project that first appeared in 1995, has been on hold for many years due to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

The pipeline aims to transport over 30 billion cubic metres of gas annually from the Dauletabad gas fields in southeast Turkmenistan and could turn into a cash cow for Afghanistan in transit fees.

“This huge project is very important for Afghanistan,” Wahidullah Shahrani, the minister of mines and industries, told a press conference in Kabul.

“Five thousand to seven thousand security forces will be deployed to safeguard the pipeline route.”The proposed Afghan section of the pipeline passes through southern Taliban heartlands including Helmand and Kandahar, where the central government has a tenuous grip on the territory.

“We will also keep an eye on the security situation as it develops. If we conclude that more troops are needed, we will take action,” the minister added.

According to Shahrani, the pipeline will generate thousands of job opportunities for local communities during and after construction.

“This (job opportunities) will encourage local communities to contribute more in securing and protecting the pipeline,” he said.

The pipeline will allow the Afghan government to earn “hundreds of millions of dollars each year” from transit fees, he added.

Construction of the pipeline is due to start in 2012 and be completed and operational by the end of 2014, he said.

The pipeline is slated to go through the Quetta area in Pakistan and end in Fazilka, an Indian city near the India-Pakistan border. – AFP

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