President Asif Ali Zardari’s use of his office to push for progress on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is a welcome step forward for the stalled project that is likely to result in significant economic gains for Pakistan, both in terms of the royalties the project yields and in terms of the more abundant supply of gas that will eventually become available to industries within the country.
The benefits that are expected to flow from the project are manifold, including a stable source of income for the government of Afghanistan and yet another reason for Pakistan and India to expand their economic ties. If the Afghan government has a steady revenue stream, the country may well be able to develop many of the institutions that it badly needs. And an expansion of economic ties between India and Pakistan should create wider constituencies in both countries that support a peaceful resolution to the outstanding political issues between them.
And yet the obstacles that stand in the way of the project are the very same ones that would be solved by its inception. Afghanistan, for instance, suffers from lawlessness which prevents most international investors from laying out firm financial commitments to the project. And political animosity between India and Pakistan has, in the past, prevented India from committing to the project. Yet the agreement reached between the governments of the four countries in the Turkmen capital last week is a significant step forward. While much work still remains to be done, the agreement of all four parties to pursue the project breathes new life into what may well turn into the foundation of a stabilising economic partnership in the region.
As India’s economy expands, it will need more energy. Much of that can come in the form of gas from Iran, Turkmenistan and other places in the Caspian region. It is in Pakistan’s benefit to accommodate India’s economic rise by facilitating each of the energy projects that needs to pass through its territory. Cooperation is likely to yield far greater prosperity for the people of both countries, compared to confrontation. For its part, India would do well to take a leap of faith and trust that Pakistan’s economic interests are aligned with theirs.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2010.
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