Pakistan and Afghanistan share similarities in multiple dimensions of history, religion, civilization and culture. Despite this, the two countries have never been successful in establishing tension free relations. Since the creation of Pakistan for more than half a century a large part of their relations consisted of passive antagonism, mistrust and a blame game.
Tense bilateral relations with Afghanistan have emerged as a major security and stability issue for Pakistan, as it is caught between two hostile neighbours, from the East and the West.
Afghanistan has been an unstable country with multiple interest groups functioning within it, It is more like a tribal confederacy rather than a cohesive nation-state. Yet, the instability in Afghanistan affects no country as much as it does Pakistan.
Keeping the aforementioned scenario in mind, it is extremely necessary for Pakistan to try and maintain cordial relations with its neighbour, for strategic benefits. It is essential for Pakistan to initiate a peace process with Afghanistan.
Many attempts have been made in the past to establish better terms but with little to no avail. In the current scenario, the most reliable possibility of a cordial relation with Afghanistan is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.
The planned pipeline is to be 1,814 kilometres in length: 214 km in Turkmenistan, 774 km in Afghanistan, and 826 km in Pakistan which will reach Fazilka on the India-Pakistan border. An estimate of $9.9 billion in total is to be spent on the 30 year project. The pipeline would have the capability to supply 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas from the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves in Daulatabad of Turkmenistan; with 16 percent going to Afghanistan while Pakistan and India would receive 42 percent each. In addition to receiving 5.22 bcm of gas annually, Afghanistan will also earn around $400 million each year from transportation.
The TAPI gas pipeline is undeniably one of the biggest energy projects to be undertaken in the Asian region. The planned pipeline has a complete length of 1,814 kilometres: 214 km in Turkmenistan, 774 km in Afghanistan, and 826 km in Pakistan which will reach Fazilka on the India-Pakistan border
The pipeline will run from gas fields in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to India. It will start from the Galkynysh gas field, and will go on to be constructed alongside the Kandahar-Herat Highway in western Afghanistan, and then via Quetta and Multan, it will reach the Indian town of Fazilka.
The pipeline project is undoubtedly important for member countries, especially for Pakistan and India who face severe power shortages. The investment will provide a way to fulfill energy requirements of both nations. The transit revenue generated will be a startup towards the economic development of war-stricken Afghanistan. Moreover, Turkmenistan’s economy is largely dependant on its gas reservoirs, this project will enable it to get a market in South Asia, after sustaining losses in Russia and Iran.
China has also vowed to join the project, as this can be used as an alternative to the much more costly line being transited from Turkmenistan through the Central Asian States. With the help of TAPI, the pipeline will cover a shorter distance as it reaches China through the Karakoram mountain range.
85 percent of the cost of the TAPI pipeline will be funded by Turkmenistan which is estimated at around $10 billion. Afghanistan, Pakistan and India will each cover 5 percent. For the development of the region, the Asian Development Bank has also agreed to fund the project, which is expected to be completed by 2020 or sooner if all the member nations collaborate in a timely fashion.
TAPI is a regional energy infrastructure project and will help in eradicating tensions between neighbouring countries by creating interdependency. TAPI is very beneficial for strengthening Pakistan-Afghanistan ties. The new government should prioritise this project, as it will not only foster good relations but will also solve the energy crisis
The reliability of the project is dependant on the fact that it involves the consent of major pressure groups dwelling in Afghanistan, which are the Afghan government, the Taliban and the United States. It is a rare occurrence to see these groups agreeing to the same thing. The Afghan government, realizing the project’s potential to better the economy of Afghanistan, has agreed to it. The Taliban have also consented to not interfere in the matter and so has the US.
The TAPI is a regional energy infrastructure project and will help in eradicating tensions between neighbouring countries by creating interdependency. TAPI is very beneficial to strengthening Pak-Afghanistan ties. The new government should prioritise this project, as it will not only foster good relations but will also solve the energy crisis.
The writer is a researcher with Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad, a student of International Relations from Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad and a former exchange student to the US for the course of Leadership and Social Justice
Published in Daily Times, August 30th 2018.