ASHGABAT: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Turkmenistan on Saturday backed stronger energy ties with the gas-rich ex-Soviet state.
Meeting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov for talks in Ashgabat, the Indian premier backed an ambitious project to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to deliver its vast energy resources to India.
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The long-planned gas pipeline project, named TAPI, would be "a key pillar of economic engagement between the two countries" and have a "transformational impact", the leaders said in a joint statement released on Modi's website.
The leaders "reaffirmed their strong commitment towards timely implementation of this strategic project for the common benefit of peoples of the four countries". Berdymukhamedov said after the talks that the gas pipeline project "is already entering the final stage and soon we will start the practical implementation."
"We are standing on the threshold of a remarkable event," the Turkmen leader said.
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"Apart from the economic rationale for all the participants in the project, TAPI is aimed at making a large contribution to strengthening stability in the region," he said, adding it would create 12,000 new jobs in Turkmenistan's neighbour Afghanistan. Berdymukhamedov thanked Modi for India's "steady support for the TAPI project and its constructive position at all the preparatory stages."
In a gesture of friendship towards India, Berdymukhamedov said a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a traditional Indian medicine and yoga centre would be opened later Saturday in Turkmenistan's showpiece capital.
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Turkmenistan, which borders Iran, has the fourth largest reserves of natural gas in the world but suffers from a lack of pipeline infrastructure. The TAPI pipeline is set to cross Afghanistan and pump gas to Pakistan and India. The 1,800 kilometre pipeline project valued at up to $10 billion however faces security concerns in Afghanistan and ballooning costs.