No one would have thought that the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) Gas Pipeline project would come to life again after a gap of 20 years. The project, however, got a decisive push from all the involved parties on December 13 when the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the President of Turkmenistan, the President of Afghanistan, and the Vice President of India gathered in Mary, Turkmenistan for the ground-breaking of this mega project. All leaders showed commitment from their respective countries to complete the project. The 1,800 km long TAPI pipeline will export 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for over 30 years. Though concerns from critics still exist that are skeptical whether or not this project is viable, the TAPI gas pipeline project is a dependable, accessible, and manageable scheme.
It’s been more than a decade and Afghanistan is still facing a brutal insurgency and political disorder. President Ashraf Ghani is irrefutably an elected president, yet his government is not meeting the demands of all the ethnic factions in the country. The Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah, is another mainstream political leader in the government but is less vibrant in state affairs. His silence may bring a storm in a tea cup once he starts applying his authorities to a larger extent, the constitution may stop him from exercising those because already Mr. Abdullah’s position was created by extra-constitutional arrangements.
Ghani’s strength withers when the Taliban rejects the central government and calls him an illegitimate president. Still, Ghani has put in considerable efforts for a peaceful political settlement. Earlier this month, the Afghan president traveled to Pakistan and met Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif in GHQ and found full support of the Pakistan Army. This exercise, along with other political meetings with the Pakistani leadership, is intended to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. However, a complete process still remains unresolved.
As such, the security maze of Afghanistan is an irritation that multiplies the reservations regarding the TAPI project. Just when President Ghani was preparing to attend the TAPI groundbreaking ceremony, the Taliban stormed a guesthouse near the Spanish embassy in Kabul and killed 5 people. Prior to the guesthouse attack, the Taliban also launched a massive attack on Kandahar Airport leaving 70 people dead. A major portion of the pipeline has to travel through Afghanistan; therefore, attacks from the Taliban could disturb the gas supplies.
Another issue which triggers concerns regarding the TAPI project is the nature of the Indo-Pak relationship. The countries have never had cordial ties, and misunderstandings and discord have increased since the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come to power in India. There are, however, gradual positive changes in the bilateral relationship. The National Security Advisors of both sides met last month. A secret meeting of Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi held in Nepal and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Sawaraj’s visit to Islamabad. The Prime Ministers also met during Prime Minister Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore last Friday. All these late developments show the ice is melting which can eventually facilitate the timely completion of TAPI project.
TAPI is a significant project for India because it provides Delhi an alternate to the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline. The continuous demand for energy from homegrown industry compelled the Indian government to hunt for other cheap and viable options. TAPI can be a significant contributor to India’s energy supply in a very short span of time. India has maintained good relations with Afghanistan over the last decade, thus transporting gas from Afghanistan would not be a major political challenge. The real issue, however, is India’s relations with Pakistan.
The pipeline is a win-win for all associated parties, but specifically for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. It could not only bring the entire region under the vortex of economic integration, but could also address the deficit of trust between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Moreover, Islamabad and Delhi can work collectively to reshape the Afghan peace process to ensure the project is completed – both have dire need of cheap and uninterrupted energy to feed their burgeoning energy shortfalls.
This month, Islamabad hosted the 5th Heart of Asia Conference and addressed the security and political issues of Afghanistan. Happening coincidentally at a time when the TAPI project was about to kick off is indeed a welcoming step for regional economic activities and for the stable future of Afghanistan. The successful completion of the TAPI project in 2018 would show that economics can outmaneuver security challenges in the modern, globalized world.
Image: Reza, Getty