- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan An ill-fated attempt to build a natural-gas pipeline through Afghanistan, which prompted the United States to support the Taliban in the mid-1990s, is coming back to life now that the repressive regime is gone.
On one end, Turkmenistan is eager to develop massive gas reserves and on the other end lies Pakistan, hungry for energy and also able to ship it to the world through its ports on the Arabian Sea.
In the middle lies Afghanistan, seeking stability under a new government and in need of cash that the pipeline would bring.
"Afghanistan is not a market" for the gas, but "transit fees will bring substantial revenues" for Kabul once the pipeline is built and goes into operation, said Khurshid Anwer, a senior official of Pakistan's Petroleum Ministry who has followed Afghan pipeline politics for more than a decade.
Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov, less than six months after U.S.-led coalition forces drove the Taliban from power, revived the idea and offered a pipeline deal to interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.
Recently, Mr. Karzai signed off on a preliminary study of a pipeline project similar to one that U.S. energy company Unocal sought to build in the 1990s.
Mr. Niyazov first began discussing the idea with Afghanistan and Pakistan as far back as 1992, shortly after his country became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
By 1995, as the Taliban was taking over, both Unocal and the Clinton administration believed the hard-line Islamic militia would bring stability and thereby make the project viable.
But 1997, a campaign by Hollywood celebrities angry about the Taliban's treatment of women prompted the Clinton administration to change course and condemn the Taliban.
Two years later, Unocal gave up on the project after U.S. bombing of Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.
Mr. Anwer, who was present at recent meetings in the Turkmen capital, Ashkabad, said that "Turkmenistan wants an outlet" for its huge deposits of sweet natural gas at Daulatabad, close to the Afghanistan border.
Sweet gas is low in sulfur content and needs little or no refining.
Initial reserves at Daulatabad are estimated at 45 trillion cubic feet, but several adjacent gas fields have been discovered in the area and could be connected to Daulatabad, the starting point for the proposed pipeline.
The Turkmens are ready to finance the first 70 miles of the pipeline from Daulatabad to the Afghan border. From there, they hope to get international financing through the Asian Development Bank for the remaining 790 miles through Afghanistan to Multan, which "will be Pakistan's energy hub," said Mr. Anwer
Mr. Anwer said Pakistan's natural-gas reserves are being depleted and that his country must start looking for other energy sources. Initially the Pakistanis could buy 2 billion cubic feet a day of Turkmenistan's gas.
However, a bigger market lies in the north Indian industrial area around New Delhi, and the pipeline would have to be extended by 360 miles to take it there. The Indian market could absorb 5 billion to 6 billion cubic feet a day.
An existing pipeline could also transport gas south from Multan to Karachi on the Arabian Sea.
The cost of building the pipeline from the Afghan-Turkmen border to Multan is estimated at between $2 billion and $2.5 billion.

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