Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday pitched for an early implementation of the $10 billion TAPI gas pipeline project during his talks with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov as both countries inked seven agreements to ramp up engagement in key areas, including defence.
During their comprehensive talks, both leaders resolved to step up efforts against cross-border threats of terrorism, organised crime and illegal drug-trafficking as they their reaffirmed their commitment for a stable Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister identified terrorism as a major threat facing the region and said, "We have shared interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and Central Asia. We have also common purpose in combating terrorism and extremism in our region."
Terming TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) project as a significant initiative in relationship between the two countries, Modi said he conveyed to Berdymukhammedov that multiple options including the possibility of land-sea route through Iran for the pipeline should be explored.
The TAPI gas project is an over 1,800-km pipeline with design capacity to supply 3.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per annum from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The pipeline is expected to be operational by 2018 and will carry gas from Turkmenistan's Galkynysh field that holds gas reserves of 16 trillion cubic feet.
Modi also emphasised the need for enhancing connectivity, calling it a key aspect of the relationship. He also proposed that Turkmenistan becomes part of International North South Transport Corridor.
Noting that the pipeline project could transform regional economic cooperation and bring prosperity along the route, Modi underlined the need to implement it "quickly" besides expressing readiness for India's long-term investment in the energy sector in Turkmanistan.
"I convey our interest in long-term investment in the energy sector in Turkmenistan," the Prime Minister said. Modi arrived in Ashgabat last evening after his three-day visit to Ufa in Russia where he attended the BRICS and SCO Summits besides holding bilateral talks with leaders of Pakistan, Russia and China.
Modi has already visited Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and is going to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as part of his eight-day visit to Central Asia.
A joint statement called the TAPI project a "key pillar" of economic engagement between the two countries and said both the leaders recognised that its implementation would have a transformational impact on trade.
It said they decided to take measures for early implementation of this important regional project.
The leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment towards timely implementation of this strategic project and noted that the selection of its Consortium Leader, to be finalised by September 1 this year, would mark a crucial step.
After talks between the two sides, a total of seven pacts were signed including an agreement on cooperation in the field of defence and another on tourism.
The pact on defence would provide a framework for intensifying bilateral defence and security cooperation through exchanges of high and mid-level visits, training and dialogue between the ministries of defence and other relevant organisations.
It would also enable capacity-building and technical cooperation, thus imparting a new momentum to the bilateral partnership in the defence sector.
The Prime Minister also congratulated Berdymukhammedov on the 20th anniversary of policy of Permanent Neutrality, an important one for peace and stability in the wider region.
Underlining the need for greater cooperation in the energy sector, Modi welcomed the decision by ONGC Videsh Limited to open an office in Ashgabat.
"We had a very positive discussion on India's interest in investment in downstream industries, including petrochemicals and fertilizer," he said adding the MoU in the fertilizer sector will enable long-term arrangements for supply of fertilizers from here to India.
Laying emphasis on connectivity, he thanked Turkmenistan for support to India joining the Ashgabat Agreement on trade and transit. "If we use the Iran route, Ashgabat is the first capital we would reach in Central Asia."
"Together with the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran rail link, and India's proposed investment in Chahbahar Port in Iran, these initiatives will strengthen connectivity between our countries," the Prime Minister said adding "As India deepens its relations with Central Asia, Turkmenistan will play a crucial role in it."
Modi noted that the recently inaugurated three-nation railway line could be a linked corridor of the International North South Transport Corridor to streamline movement of goods and commodities between India and Turkmenistan and beyond, the joint statement said.
In this context, they also called for increasing frequency of flight operations between the two countries, including by offering fifth freedom rights for increased viability. "The leaders reaffirmed their intention to work together in exploring alternative transport corridors for additional connectivity options between the two countries," the joint statement said.
The two leaders welcomed the Indian proposal to set up a urea production facility in Turkmenistan.
The joint statement said the two leaders also identified communications, information and technology, textile industry, chemical and pharmaceutical industry, construction and agro-processing as potential areas for cooperation.
In his statement, Modi said, "India attaches great importance to this relationship. There is enormous potential for cooperation between India, a nation of 1.25 billion people with a large and rapidly growing economy, and Turkmenistan, a nation rich in resources."