Economic stability is imperative for any country’s political stability and national security’s sustainability. The economic interdependence between states not only facilitates trade among them, but also creates a conducive environment for swapping enmity with amity. The Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (TAPI) mega gas pipeline project certainly contributes constructively in the Central Asian and South Asian nations’ economic connectivity and prosperity. It also helps to improve confidence among the neighboring states.
Today, intra-regional and inter-regional or cross-regional economic integration and interdependency is necessary for sustainable economic growth. The nations not prepared to accommodate the current trends in their geo-economic policies because of their intra-state or inter-state conflicts are economically backward. Therefore, nations have to create an internal situation conducive to foreign direct investment and overwhelm their bilateral differences for transnational economic activity for their national economic growth.
Since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the former USSR, Islamabad has tried to engage the landlocked Central Asian states for its economic pursuits. On March 15, 1995, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkmenistan for the import of natural gas from the latter’s Galkynysh gas field. Turkmenistan holds the world’s fourth largest natural gas reserves and Galkynysh is the world’s second biggest gas field.
The pipeline from Galkynysh gas field passes through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. Afghanistan’s internal anarchy has obstructed the pipeline’s construction during the past two decades. Nevertheless, the gas pipeline project was not completely abandoned. Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India occasionally convene meetings to activate the TAPI gas project. India and Pakistan’s tensions did not spoil the future of the project.
The current regional geo-economic situation seems favorable for multinational economic projects. China’s “One-Belt, One-Road” and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are driving the regional actors towards economic cooperation through regional connectivity. Indeed, the fresh initiative on the TAPI project is a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the obstacles that may jeopardize the implementation plan of the project in the near future.
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and India’s Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar did a groundbreaking project which cost $8 billion, 1,840-kilometer TAPI gas pipeline project in Serhetabat, Turkmenistan, followed by another in Heart, Afghanistan on Feb. 23, 2018. It was reported that the TAPI pipeline would carry an estimated 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually for the next 30 years. India and Pakistan would buy around 14 billion cubic meters each, and Afghanistan would receive five billion cubic meters. In addition, Kabul would earn nearly $500 million annually in transit duties.
The quartet expressed their sincere commitment to the completion and security of the project. They expressed their resolve to complete it within two years. However, Afghanistan’s internal situation is not positive for the project.
The Trump administration’s open-ended military policy and offensive posture confront a severe backlash in Afghanistan. Neither deployment of additional troops nor intensification of air raids dented the resolve of insurgents. The recent dreadful wave of suicide attacks in the urban centers exposes the powerlessness of the Afghan National Unity Government.
The TAPI pipeline would run for hundreds of kilometers through southern Afghanistan, which is largely controlled by the Afghan Taliban. Without the security assurance of the Taliban, the commencing of construction work on the Afghan section of a natural gas pipeline is not advisable. The encouraging development is that Afghan Taliban endorsed the TAPI project and also agreed not to thwart the construction of the pipeline that passes through their controlled areas in Afghanistan.
To conclude, the TAPI gas pipeline contributes positively to Afghanistan’s war-shattered economy and assists India and Pakistan’s chronic energy shortages. Moreover, it will help improve trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as between India and Pakistan. Thus, TAPI will lead to regional interdependency that would swap enmity with amity in South Asia.
Contributed by Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal.
The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and Member Advisory Board at Melange and COPAIR