WEB DESK: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the heads of government of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan and India’s Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari participated on Sunday in a ceremony launching the Turkmenistan-Pakistan-Afghanistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline in Mary, Turkmenistan.
The usual speeches were made during the ground-breaking event, including the one delivered by Nawaz Sharif, highlighting the win-win nature of the project envisaging gas-rich Turkmenistan’s sale to the three energy-starved South Asian countries.
TAPI’s economic benefits include generating employment along its route that has the capacity to stifle the recruitment drive of extremists and terrorists, and, of course, enhance regional integration that would, over time, not only usher an era of prosperity but also ease existing mistrust within the conflict-ridden South Asian region.
It is extremely unfortunate that given these highly desirable objectives there is a but with a capital ‘B’. The Pakistan-Afghanistan rapprochement that looked so promising when Ashraf Ghani became the President of the country appears to have suffered serious setbacks in recent months.
The anti-Pakistan lobby in Kabul reportedly spearheaded by the head of the Afghan National Directorate of Intelligence, Rahmatullah Nabil, waylaid all attempts by Ghani to engage with Pakistan to achieve peace.
Nabil, it was widely believed in Pakistan, was acting in accordance with the Modi government’s policy to isolate Pakistan while compelling us to grant concessions that would have compromised our security, including allowing trade between India and Afghanistan through our territory without any reciprocity in terms of facilitating our road trade with East Asian countries and Bangladesh/Nepal through India.
The welcome accorded to Ghani during his visit to Islamabad to attend the recently-held Heart of Asia conference with the Prime Minister as well as the army chief in attendance at the airport and, the subsequent resignation of Nabil are some developments that are being seen as an acknowledgement that Pakistan can play an important role in facilitating a meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Pakistan sponsored an Afghan-led peace process in Murree though it achieved no breakthrough was a start in this process.
Modi, after his historic chat with Nawaz Sharif in Paris and the subsequent attendance by Indian Minister of External Affairs in Islamabad for the multilateral Heart of Asia conference, with an agreement to re-engage in dialogue with Pakistan re-titled as ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’, has generated some optimism.
India’s refusal to allow a cricket series with Pakistan, however, is being seen as Modi’s decision to engage with Pakistan at multilateral fora but not bilaterally. In addition, in recent weeks it has been revealed that the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline is now no longer under consideration by India which has instead sought to get a direct and considerably more expensive pipeline network link with Iran bypassing Pakistan.
Critics argue that although all those who inaugurated the projects by pressing the welding process of the gas pipeline happen to be Muslims, the fact that the Indian Vice President was sent to attend the launch of TAPI in Mary may be another chapter in this policy namely to engage with us at a multilateral fora but not bilaterally.
To complicate matters further, the Afghan Taliban have once again made considerable military gains in Kunduz as well as in other swathes of territory which has brought the capacity of the Afghan forces to deal with the insurgents in question. The resurgence of these attacks would no doubt raise the risk costs of the TAPI pipeline and may lead to backing out by some investors.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on board his return flight stated that the region has the capacity to benefit immeasurably from not only TAPI but also the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that would allow the South East Asian countries to use the warm water port in Gwadar for enhancing trade.
Again there is no doubt that this would be so once the existing mistrust is resolved; and one cannot but fully support all efforts to dispel the mistrust between neighbouring countries. But the task will be arduous and one would only hope that efforts towards rapprochement are sustained in spite of serious setbacks along the way.