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President Karzai Visits Turkmenistan, Builds on Excellent Relations

On July 5 President Hamid Karzai traveled to Turkmenistan for talks with his new Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov. The leaders discussed prospects for a $2 billion project that would pipe natural gas from energy-rich Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan. President Berdymukhammedov said his country was seeking to ship 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually through the pipeline.

“Afghanistan is interested in receiving income from the transit of Turkmen gas to Pakistan and India,” said President Karzai. Afghanistan is hoping the project will create 12,000 jobs for Afghans and eventually bring in $300 million in annual transit tariffs. The construction of a trans-Afghan gas pipeline has been debated for over a decade. Turkmenistan, Central Asia’s largest gas producer, now depends on Russian lines for its exports.

President Karzai said Afghanistan wants to boost trade with Turkmenistan, calling Berdymukhamedov’s proposal to build a railroad linking the two countries “very interesting“ and adding that he would discuss the pipeline and railroad projects with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Relations between the leaders have been congenial since Berdymukhamedov’s inauguration in December. Afghanistan is to buy 287 million kilowatt-hours of electricity from Turkmenistan for $5.7 million this year

The meeting ended with several agreements between the two nations. Both countries’ economics ministers signed agreements governing trade ties and cargo transit as well as setting up a commission on economic cooperation.

Agreements were drafted on consular issues, culture and education, and cooperation of law enforcement agencies. The presidents signed a protocol on bilateral consultations, agreeing to hold an annual meeting between their respective foreign ministers and also agreed to take steps to open passenger air communication and automobile passenger traffic between Ashgabat and Kabul.

President Berdymukhamedov also promised to provide Afghanistan with electric power worth $300,000 at no cost. “This is a big gift from the Turkmen people to the Afghan people,” Berdymukhamedov told a joint news conference with Karzai after the talks.

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