By Wajid Hayat
Construction on the long-stalled Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline has already been commenced by the participant countries with the execution of its ground-breaking ceremony in Turkmenistan. The TAPI pipeline is slated to transport 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas from Turkmenistan’s massive Galkynysh field to neighboring South Asia, offering some stability to energy famished Afghanistan and other participant countries. TAPI will provide Afghanistan with 14 million standard cubic meters a day (mmscmd) of natural gas, while India and Pakistan will each receive 38 mmscmd. However, the $10 billion “Peace Pipeline” designed to promote regional cooperation would not be an easy task; as it would have to traverse a dangerous route before reaching its destinations, passing through Afghanistan’s Kandahar province traditionally the heartland of Taliban militancy and the neighboring Quetta region of Pakistan. Experts believe that the progress on TAPI’s construction could be effectively ensured by tackling and understanding the ground realities of the areas being followed by the laying plan route of the proposed gas pipe and respecting ,appreciating and addressing the domestic requirements of that areas ,especially in Afghanistan by the stake holders.
The major stumbling block for TAPI, the selection of a consortium leader willing to assume the risk for the pipeline’s construction, was duly overcome in August 2015 with Turkmenistan’s decision to assume the role. According to the agreement reached between the four principals, Turkmenistan will assume a 51 percent stake in the project and will become the lead operator. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India will each hold a minimum 5 percent share. This arrangement leaves up to a 34 percent stake for International energy majors to join the project.
TAPI’s financial and regional stakeholders are a political bonus for the project that could attract more international stakeholders. If TAPI’s momentum of progress continues during 2016, the pipeline could very well develop enough international support to address the security issue.
Experts endorse the fact that the TAPI project appears to be moving in the right vector of progress and could further enhance the desired collective cooperation of the regional countries for acquiring the peace and stability of the region and beyond. Optimistically scheduled to be completed in 2019, TAPI could earn Afghanistan four hundred million dollars a year in transit fees, as well as meeting enormous energy needs in Pakistan and India. Kabul may benefit even sooner from the power-transmission lines of a project named CASA 1000, scheduled to open in 2017, which would bring hydropower from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan over Afghanistan’s mountains to Pakistan. Afghan nation has welcomed the project and showed celebratory events across the country. Logar province, just south of Kabul, inaugurated a “TAPI Park” in the provincial center of Pul-i-Alam.
It is pertinent to mention here that during November 2015, Kazakhstan had also announced that it wanted to export 3 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually to India via the TAPI pipeline. The announcement was made by Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov in Tehran during the summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum. Kazakhstan’s choice of such a high profile venue in which to declare its intention to supply TAPI underlines the seriousness of its commitment. TAPI would also offer the possibility of improving the geo-strategic position of the participant countries in Eurasia’s Central Asian heartland, a region critical for security as well as energy and trade needy countries.
Security experts view that despite the positive developments, TAPI still faces some intimidating hurdles. Aside from the structural challenges; inherent in the Turkmen economy, the most momentous impediment is Afghanistan’s lack of adequate military capacity to secure its segment of the pipeline. However, it is widely agreed that the proposed pipeline could be protected with sufficient monetary expenses on pipeline security measures in conjunction with the political and diplomatic settlements of inter and intra differences of stake holders of the project.
Besides, placement of weathered personnel alongside Afghan security forces to implement them. However, that effort would likely require the commitment of the international players as well as the cooperation of the Afghan government. Pakistan has always approached and considered that “the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan.” Yet, at the same time, the negativity created against Pakistan by the Indian lobby while exploiting the national and international forums to defame and discourage Pakistan; needs to be harnessed by the Afghan government for nurturing the intended bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Experts firmly believe that the entire purpose of the subject project is not only the economic interests of the participating countries but it would also augment; to establish a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan in a secure and stable region. However, in case of trying to create an atmosphere of mistrust by any adversary of peace and prosperity, all the regional and international countries must adopt a joint strategy to preempt and tackle any such negativity; which could damage the overall efforts of the regional and international countries for bringing global peace and stability in the larger interest of Humanity.