A Pipeline for Landlocked Afghanistan: Can It Help Deliver Peace?
March 14, 2018
Two remarkable things happened at the end of February in Afghanistan: At the 2nd Kabul Process Conference on February 28, Afghanistan’s National Unity Government (NUG) unveiled a peace offer (without preconditions) to the Taliban in a bold attempt to restart the stalled political process and ultimately put an end to the country’s long-running conflict. And, on February 23, representatives from the region gathered in Herat to mark the start of work on the Afghan portion of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline or TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project.
The detailed negotiation document presented by President Ashraf Ghani at the conference maps out a way forward in attaining sustainable peace and emphasizes the role a stable Afghanistan could play in regional integration and reducing the political tensions in South Asia. While it’s unclear whether the Taliban will go for the peace deal offered by Ghani, the document also underscores the crucial role of regional projects like the TAPI pipeline in moving peace forward.
The TAPI project was first proposed in 1995 as a way to bring landlocked Central Asian energy to market, but it dropped off the agenda after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan the following year. While the plan was revived in 2001, it has been slow getting off the ground.
The $8 billion, 1,814-kilometer natural gas pipeline will have the capacity to transfer 33 billion cubic meters of gas annually to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Afghanistan, which suffers from chronic energy shortages, is expected to receive an additional 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, with the rest divided equally between Pakistan and India.
At least 816 kilometers of the pipeline will pass through five southern provinces of Afghanistan: Herat, Farah, Helmand, Nimroz, and Kandahar. Given that these provinces are Taliban strongholds where security is a major concern, it’s encouraging that the Taliban and neighboring Pakistan have pledged their cooperation and support for the project. The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2020.
The NUG has emphasized how crucial economic progress is to Afghanistan’s development and says the TAPI pipeline exemplifies how regional initiatives are critical in the country’s future. Such development projects could potentially play a major role in gaining trust among Afghans in the NUG’s ability to govern and drive the peace process-and the country-forward.
The Asia Foundation’s latest Survey of the Afghan People reveals a positive relationship between awareness of development projects and Afghan perceptions on areas like confidence in the NUG, optimism about the direction of the country, and a willingness to stay in Afghanistan. For instance, Afghans who reported an awareness of development projects like new roads and bridges were more likely (63.8%) to report that the government is doing a good job compared to those who were not aware (52.2%).
On the economic front, regional integration projects like the TAPI have enormous potential to create new jobs to help address unemployment concerns in the region. This matters a lot: according to the Survey, unemployment is one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan and an important factor driving Afghans to leave. The new jobs, primarily in construction, that come from the TAPI development project will be a valuable alternative for young men who might otherwise be drawn to joining an armed opposition group. When the pipeline is up and running, the country’s GDP is expected to increase by an additional $400 million a year in transit fees which can partly offset the country’s reliability on international aid and stimulate further development.
In South Asia, where regional tensions are high, there is hope that tangible projects like TAPI can help bring neighboring countries together around a shared economic interest, and thus play a role in furthering regional integration in both South and Central Asia. If Afghans see projects like this come to fruition, and start to feel the economic benefits they bring, confidence in the NUG’s ability to govern will likely come next, as will overall improvement in the country.
Mohammad Shoaib Haidary is The Asia Foundation’s policy and research program officer in Afghanistan. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.
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