Af-Pak officials inaugurate long-awaited gas pipeline

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's president and Pakistan's prime minister launched a 1,814 kilometer (1,130 mile) gas pipeline on Friday that will feed Turkmenistan gas to Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan and eventually to India.

The first part of the inauguration took place in Turkmenistan, on the border with Afghanistan's western province of Herat, followed by a ceremony in Afghanistan. The launch was shown live on Afghan television.

Heavy security will guard the pipeline construction through war-weary Afghanistan, said Jelani Farhad, spokesman for the Herat provincial governor's office.

"It's a golden day for Afghanistan today," Farhad said. "It will help our economy and create thousands of jobs."

The long awaited pipeline project, which is known by the acronym TAPI, is expected to take two years to complete, but it has been several years in the planning.

The United States has advocated the pipeline as a source of much needed gas to all three countries over an alternative pipeline, which is also being negotiated, bringing gas from Iran through Pakistan and into India.

The TAPI pipeline is a rare show of cooperation between often hostile neighbors Pakistan and India as well as the often contentious neighbors Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi attended the ceremonies along with a representative of the Indian government.

Security has been a leading concern leading up to the inauguration but Farhad said Afghanistan has devised a detailed security plan to protect the pipeline construction as well as the pipeline.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the AP in a telephone interview that the religious movement was ready to guarantee the pipeline's security. "We are ready to protect TAPI. It is good and important and vital for the economy of Afghanistan," he said, noting the pipeline had been under consideration during the Taliban rule that ended in 2001.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told the gathering that the pipeline is a message to future generations.

"We hope our next generation will see this pipeline as the foundation of a joint position in our region which is aimed at improving our economy, providing jobs and increasing our security, all in our fight against extremists," Ghani said.

The pipeline will have a capacity to carry 33 billion cubic meters (43 billion cubic yards) of gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan's Herat, Farah, Helmand and Nimroz provinces.

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