One of the great bugaboos of the wars in Afghanistan was the role the country might play in oil transit. The involvement of Unocal executives in courting the Taliban to arrange a route for natural gas from Turkmenistan is the stuff of legend—from covering up lascivious pool statues for Martin Miller’s Taliban Christmas dinner to the darker conspiracy theories that are as divorced from reality as the weirdos who think 9/11 was a conspiracy because it was “the first time fire ever melted steel.”
Of course, work on TAPI—the TransAfghan Pipeline—continues apace. Six weeks ago, India joined the consortium attempting to build the pipeline, which will stretch from the Dauletabad gas field in Turkmenistan, skirt near Herat and Kandahar and Quetta, and end not on the Persian Gulf but at Fazilka, in India. The project is of such importance to India’s interests that it has the backing of the Asian Development Bank, though how much that matters remains to be seen.
It is a major project for India, and even for Pakistan—a big reason the Taliban continues to enjoy a relatively peaceful existence in NWFP (despite the recent arrest of a whole two dozen “sympathizers”) is because they remain a useful proxy force for Pakistan against India, in both Kashmir and in Afghanistan. Many have speculated that Afghanistan has turned into a low-intensity war between India and Pakistan, as both compete for influence and power; these theories seem more than a bit far fetched, but cannot really be discounted.
The potential collaboration over an LNG pipeline could shift matters a bit. If Pakistan must foster security in the southern half of Afghanistan—the very heart of the Taliban’s growing territory—in order to derive income from this new project, then it might be cajoled into cracking down further on the extremists and maybe, perhaps, funding some long term initiatives to undercut the environments of extremism, like maybe schools.
Who are we kidding? This will never get built—not so long as India and Pakistan mistrust each other so deeply, and certainly not so long as the Taliban control Afghanistan. Perhaps we could all reconsider the TransCaspian Pipeline?