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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said this week it will fund a feasibility study for a much-awaited 1,500 km natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, through Afghanistan. Unocal, an American energy company, signed a deal with the Taliban regime in 1997 to develop the pipeline. However, the company pulled out the following year, citing ongoing instability and uncertainty over costs and contracts. It is believed that the pipeline could bolster stability in Afghanistan by providing badly needed revenue to the fledgling Kabul regime as well as diversifying gas export routes in the region. News reports said the revived initiative - discussed in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat this week among senior Turkmen, Afghan and Pakistani officials - has the backing of the US, which views the pipeline as a way of countering the huge influence of Russia and Iran in the region. It is anticipated that the feasibility study will be completed in September, when government officials are expected to meet again in Kabul. And according to Afghanistan's minister for industry and mineral resources, the pipeline could eventually extend to India. Pakistan is also considering allowing a Russian company to develop a gas pipeline running through the country from Iran to India. In another boost for the region, the World Bank has granted loans totalling US $32.5 million to fund development projects in Tajikistan. One of the projects aims at modernising the Dushanbe water supply system and the Pamir-1 hydroelectric plant. The United States Agency for International Development, the International Finance Corporation and the Swiss government have also given Kyrgyzstan US $5 million to develop small and medium businesses, seen as important in a country where much of the revenue is generated by this sector. In a separate development, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and Kyrgyzstan's development bank, Ineximbank, have signed a US $15 million loan agreement, which is not guaranteed by the government. This money is also aimed at bolstering the small and medium business sector. In Kazakhstan, the editor of an independent newspaper, the Respublika Business Review, which has reported widely on government corruption and human rights violations, was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison. Tax police had accused Irina Petrushova, a Russian citizen, of working in the country illegally. However, Petrushova, whose lawyer claimed the charges were politically motivated, was eventually released under a wide-ranging amnesty package passed last year on the 10th anniversary of the country's independence. The newspaper has faced harassment before and its publication was suspended for two months in April. Antonio Martins da Cruz, president of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said this week that the recent assassination of Afghan Vice-President Haji Abdul Qadir could undermine stability and security in the country, as well as the entire region, because of Afghanistan's location. Three Central Asian states share borders with Afghanistan. The presidents of Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, share this view. At a weekend summit in Aktau, Kazakhstan, they pledged to play a more active role in Afghanistan's reconstruction, saying that its stability has a "profound" impact on the rest of Central Asia.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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