Turkmenistan officials due in Afghanistan as Taliban back TAPI gas pipeline

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Workers stand near a gas pipe during the launching ceremony of construction work of the TAPI project on the Afghan section of a natural gas pipeline that will link Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, near the town of Serhetabat, Turkmenistan February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Marat Gurt

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KABUL, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Officials from Turkmenistan will visit Kabul this week to discuss continuing work on the TAPI pipeline linking the energy-rich Central Asian country through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, the Taliban government said on Wednesday.

The pipeline is expected to carry 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas each year along a route stretching 1,800 km (1,125 miles) from Galkynysh, the world's second-biggest gas field, to the Indian city of Fazilka near the Pakistan border.

"We have been working hard for some time and we are ready to take pride in starting work on the TAPI project," Mohammad Issa Akhund, the acting minister of mines and petroleum in the new Taliban government, said in a statement.

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The Afghan stretch of the pipeline will run from the northwestern border with Turkmenistan, south through the western city of Herat to Kandahar near the border with Pakistan.

Akhund met the ambassador of Turkmenistan ahead of a two-day visit by a delegation from the country that will start from Saturday, the statement said.

The project was launched in Afghanistan in 2018, when the Taliban was fighting the Western-backed government in Kabul, but it pledged its cooperation for a project it hailed as a key future element of the economic infrastructure.

Afghanistan, which suffers chronic energy shortages, is expected to take 5% of the gas itself, with the rest divided equally between Pakistan and India. In addition, Kabul should earn hundreds of millions of dollars in transit fees.

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Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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