Afghan authorities in Herat Province today paraded a group of 10 militants who were reportedly trained in Iran to sabotage the inauguration ceremony of the landmark TAPI gas pipeline project in western Afghanistan. Mohammad Ayub Alizai, the head of the extremist group, claimed that he and his colleagues had received all necessary training and equipment to disrupt the ceremony. Mohammad Asif Rahimi, the governor of Herat, which hosted today’s inauguration ceremony, said the militants had a last-minute change of mind. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry has called on the country’s intelligence agency to investigate the matter. Morad Ali Morad, the deputy interior minister of Afghanistan, said any country that intends to undermine the TAPI project should keep in mind that the project would benefit the future generations in all regional countries. “Such arsonist acts will someday hit them back,” he cautioned.
Comment: Senior representatives from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India today inaugurated a 1,130-mile gas pipeline that will transport Turkmenistan’s gas to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan. Ceremonies were held in both Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
The project is expected to bolster regional economic connectivity and foster collective efforts for security and stability in the volatile and energy-hungry region. The project will help Turkmenistan to diversify its gas export destinations, provide a crucial source of revenue for Afghanistan, and reduce the energy deficit of Pakistan and India. More importantly, the implementation of the project is expected to decrease heightening tension between India and Pakistan and to improve relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
But there are formidable political, security and financial challenges to the implementation of the project. Although the Taliban announced that they will not try to disrupt the project, it remains to be seen if the terrorist group will honor its pledges. Nor is the Taliban a monolithic group and some local groups may act against the project even if the Taliban leadership decides not to.
And if the claim of Afghan officials is accurate, Iran will also try to impede a successful execution of the pipeline project. Iran is pursuing separate pipeline projects with Turkmenistan and may see the implementation of TAPI as a threat to its interests.
Over the past decade, Iran has sabotaged several construction and reconstruction projects in western Afghanistan that it has deemed counter to its interests. Afghan officials say the IRGC has funded and trained Taliban groups to prevent construction of hydroelectric dams in western Nimroz and Herat provinces in order to keep the flow of Afghan waters into Iran.