Afghan President Hamid Karzai traveled to neighboring energy-rich Turkmenistan on Saturday on a trip aimed at drumming up regional support for his struggling nation's economic future.
Talks with Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov concluded with a tentative agreement to construct a railway linking the two countries and a commitment to speed up implementation of a plan for a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to India.
Deepening of ties could further integrate Afghanistan into the regional economy while drawing Turkmenistan slowly out of the isolation it has maintained since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Berdymukhamedov said after the talks that power lines will be built by the end of 2012 that would allow Turkmenistan to supply Afghanistan with 70 percent of its electricity needs.
Officials in Turkmenistan have said previously that electricity exports to Afghanistan could reach more than 1.6 billion kilowatt hours per year.
The gas pipeline across Afghanistan, projected to ship 33 billion cubic meters a year, has been actively backed by the United States. It would give Turkmenistan a further export route for its copious energy reserves and generate revenue for Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan could earn more than $1 billion annually in transit fees," Berdymukhamedov said, citing an estimate by the government's representative for the pipeline.
Karzai predicts maintaining the pipeline could provide employment 50,000 people in Afghanistan alone.
Many observers remain concerned about the security risks of laying a pipeline across some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan's unruly tribal areas.
The proposed 150-kilometer (95-mile) railway from eastern Turkmenistan to northern Afghanistan is intended to link into a broader regional transportation network. A railway line has been built from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan continues to be subject to widespread international criticism for its failure to address its dismal human rights record. Turkmen authorities have worked to repair the country's reputation by casting it as a bulwark for stability in the region.
Associated Press writer Peter Leonard in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, contributed to this report.