Central Asia: World Bank Chief In Talks Over Pipeline

KABUL -- World Bank chief James Wolfensohn said Wednesday he had held talks about financing a fuel pipeline to channel massive gas reserves from
Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to India or Pakistan.

Wolfensohn, who was in the Afghan capital to open the financial institution's offices here and to confirm 100 million dollars of World Bank grants for the interim administration, said a number of companies had already expressed an interest in the project.

Turkmenistan is reportedly estimated to have 159 trillion cubic feet (4.8 trillion cubic meters) of gas reserves, the 11th largest in the world.

But its landlocked status and the 23 years of war in Afghanistan have scuppered previous plans to open up the reserves to the outside world.

"I have spoken to a number of people concerning a possible pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and either out through a port
in Pakistan or through to India," Wolfensohn told reporters.

"We have expressed interest in that but I think the principals need to discuss that further. We have said that we are ready to discuss it when they are ready to discuss it. We are not taking the entrepreneurial role but were it to come up we would certainly take a look at it."

"There are a number of entrepreneurs already in the exercise so we will wait and see."

Wolfensohn said the governments of Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India had already expressed an interest while Ashraf Ghani, special advisor to interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, also confirmed Kabul's interest.

Wolfensohn added: "If they get it together I will be delighted to talk to them and then we will see who it is who is the main entrepreneur in the exercise and what they have come up with."

The Taliban signed an agreement with U.S. company Unocal in 1998 to allow a two billion dollar 890-mile (1,424-kilometer) natural gas pipeline to be built.

The plan was for the pipeline to run from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad gas field through to Herat in Afghanistan before linking up with Pakistan's gas grid.

But Unocal later pulled out of the project, citing the civil war and continuing uncertainty over costs.

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