Gas Pipelines, Weak States, and Enemies Coming Together

The Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India (TAPI) pipeline has been the subject of intense international politicking. The U.S. is trying to promote the $7.6 TAPI proposal as an alternative to Iran’s vision for a line originating in its own borders and going through Pakistan and India. Both the U.S. and India are trying to promote their plans as “peace pipelines” that will bring warring states closer. U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley recently noted in his daily press briefing, “TAPI’s route may serve as a stabilizing corridor, linking neighbors together in economic growth and prosperity.”

Yet despite the focus on international politics it is ultimately domestic politics in Afghanistan that will determine whether the TAPI pipeline is even feasible. Unlike in authoritarian Turkmenistan where the President saying the pipeline will take a certain route is enough to make the population accept it Afghanistan is a weak state where the power of the government barely extends outside of Kabul. The proposed route goes through Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, and local communities will need to be convinced that allowing the pipeline to go through their areas will ultimately provide some sort of benefit.

One insurgent group seems to have already bought into the vision of a pipeline through Afghanistan. Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) recently announced its support for the pipeline and even offered to provide security along the route. The HiG leadership has been in negotiations with the Karzai government over the past year and some analysts think this may be a bid to make itself appear a responsible actor if it is invited into the government. Or it may be an attempt to get more money to fund continued fighting as its members would expect payment for providing security along the route.

It will be interesting to see whether the TAPI pipeline, if it goes forward, ends up promoting stability or continued conflict both regionally and inside of Afghanistan. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up doing both. There is something ironic thinking about the U.S. and an insurgent group both working to promote the same project.

For a view from another part of the world on how a pipeline might bring enemies together check out Mary Stonaker’s piece in the Journal of Energy Security about how the Arab Gas Pipeline might serve as a diplomatic tool to bring Israel closer to Syria and Lebanon.

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