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India to be invited to join $3.5 billion gas pipeline project

ISLAMABAD (February 23 2003) : The Steering Committee on Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) Gas Pipeline Saturday signed a protocol, which incorporated a time cautious schedule for speedy implementation of $ 3.5 billion project.

It also endorsed a proposal to include India into the plan to make it commercially more viable for which a formal request would be extended to New Delhi before the next meeting, scheduled for April 8-9 at the Asian Development Bank's Headquarters, in Manila.

Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Naurez Shakoor led Pakistan's team during the meeting, which included Petroleum Secretary Abdullah Yousuf, director general, gas, Naeem Malik, director general, Pakistan Holdings, Khurshid Anwar, managing director, Sui Southern Gas Company Limited, Rashid Lone, managing director Sui Northern Gas Company Limited, and other senior officials of the ministry.

Yolly Qurbanmuradov, deputy prime minister, and Juma Mohammad Mohammadi, minister headed Turkmenistan and Afghanistan delegations for industries and mining, respectively.

The ADB team was led by Marshuk Ali Shah, mission resident chief Naurez, who was accompanied by deputy prime minister, Turkmenistan, and Afghan minister for mines and industries told newsmen after the meeting that since the viability of the project depends on the extension of the pipeline to India, it was unanimously decided by the committee that the document of the TAP would be forwarded to the Indian government with an invitation to join the project prior to Manila meeting.

Naurez said that the steering committee reviewed the updated progress on the project and expressed satisfaction on all the related issues such as route, construction, and operation.

The matter relating to formation of consortium comprising international oil and gas companies banks, governments' guarantees also came under discussion.

The committee also discussed various risks involved and its mitigation requirements.

It approved pre-qualification document for formation of consortium for which the first draft would be completed by March 30, 2003.

The draft would be issued to oil and gas companies by April 2003, which would be asked to submit their qualifications by July 31.

The short-listing of the parties would be made by August this year, ahead of schedule by two months.

The meeting assigned the task of completing study on market demand by March 15.

The ADB would hire services of the international consultants for feasibility study of the project to be completed before June 30.

To a question, Naurez replied that the international oil and gas companies as well as the donor agencies would be approached to get funds for the project once its preliminary work was completed.

He saw no threat to the project even if India did not enter into the project for any reason.

The committee also took under consideration the northern route for detailed study.

To a question, Juma replied that the purpose of alternative route was to consider advantages and disadvantages with the other parties of the project and has nothing to do with the security situation in his country.

He sounded confidently while giving a categorical statement on security and law and order situation in his country.

Juma said his country had a strong commitment to provide a leak-proof security to the pipeline to make the project a success.

He said Karazai-led government in Afghanistan was capable enough to uphold its commitment and ensure complete security to the pipeline.

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