Despite security concerns, an agreement about the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project was signed in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat last weekend. But the project faces several obstacles.
Leaders of four countries inked a pipeline deal on the weekend
The Taliban pose a serious threat to the proposed project
Construction of the pipeline is set to start in 2012, and the four countries hope to complete it by the end of 2014. Experts are of the view that this timeline is far from realistic, as there are serious concerns about security in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The proposed pipeline will pass through the Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan - Helmand and Kandahar - and then through Pakistan's Baluchistan province, which is also facing an endemic separatist insurgency. The Afghan government has promised to deploy up to 7,000 troops to secure the pipeline.
Michael Kugelman, an expert on the region at the Wilson Center in Washington, told Deutsche Welle that the project was very promising for regional stability and energy security, as India and Pakistan were increasingly depending on foreign energy resources. However, he was skeptical whether the project could really take off.
"The initial question is: Can this pipeline exist without getting blown up?" said Kugelman. "And that is not the only issue. You are dealing with the partnership of two long-time enemies - India and Pakistan, and you are dealing with one of the world's most anti-democratic regimes in Turkmenistan. And another problem, particularly in the Afghanistan context, is that with this new revenue source, and with a need to ensure the security along the pipeline route, it could really exacerbate corruption."
TAPI vs. IPI
The Iranian and Pakistani presidents shake hands during a summit in Tehran
Pakistan has already signed a similar agreement with Iran. The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline has been severely opposed by the US, which favors the Turkmenistan pipeline. Islamabad is not ready to abandon the IPI and cites its severe energy crisis as a legitimate reason to undertake multiple energy projects. India also says it has not shelved the IPI project although it is concerned about the security in Pakistan.
"Iran and the US do not have the best of relations. The US, therefore, pressures both India and Pakistan not to sign the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline," Pakistani defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqua told Deutsche Welle. She emphasized that the existing agreements are basically MoUs (memorandums of understanding), and it is yet to be seen which project would eventually become a reality.
According to Michael Kugelman, Washington does not like strengthening Iran, however, Pakistan's and India's energy needs are immense. "I can imagine that the US is not pleased, but it is important to be realistic. Pakistan and India are both very energy insecure countries. These countries are going to need to do what is in their best interest, and if it involves working with countries like Iran, then so be it."
Still worth pursuing
Despite many controversies surrounding the project, TAPI is believed to be beneficial for all the countries involved.
According to Afghanistan's Minister of Mines and Industries, Wahidullah Shahrani, the gas pipeline will generate thousands of jobs in Afghanistan. He hopes that the economic benefit of the project will be such that the local people will themselves protect the pipeline.
"The entire region has a great need for energy resources. Whether it comes from Iran or Turkmenistan is not important," said Ayesha Siddiqua.
Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein