On December 15th, top officials of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India signed an agreement to build a major gas pipeline from Turkmenistan that would help meet the growing energy needs of its three partners, and potentially stabilize the region.
"This is a project that we have long supported in principle," said Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake. "We believe there is a great strategic logic to trying to link the oil and gas reserves of Turkmenistan with the large and growing energy markets of South Asia."
Indeed, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, or TAPI, could be enormously important to the four nations involved. While Turkmenistan is in need of new markets to consume its huge natural gas reserves, Pakistan and India are badly in need of additional energy resources. As a joint project for Pakistan and India, it could build trust and diminish acrimony between the two neighbors; and it could further strengthen the already good relations between India and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the project would help Afghanistan's nation-building and development, while providing local Afghan communities with well-paying jobs, and supplying new sources of power and heating.
Much work remains to be done, particularly to arrange financing for the project and determine a secure route. The roughly 17,000 kilometer pipeline would run through parts of Afghanistan, including the Taliban strongholds of Herat and Kandahar; continue into Pakistan's Baluchistan province, and terminate in India’s Punjab.
"It is important to remember that pipelines are long-term projects with long-term horizons, and that the immense effort involved will produce long-term benefits for Turkmenistan and the region," said State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of South and Central Asian Affairs Susan Elliott. "TAPI's route may serve as a stabilizing corridor, linking neighbors together in economic growth and prosperity. The road ahead is long for this project, but the benefits could be tremendous.
"The United States, Turkmenistan and the world community share a common interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan," said Deputy Secretary Elliott. "Initiatives like this contribute to Afghanistan's development."