WASHINGTON - As leaders and representatives of countries involved in the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline celebrated the project’s inauguration, Afghan Taliban, in a rare announcement, vowed to support and protect the pipeline in areas under its control.
In a statement emailed to media outlets, Qari Mohammad Yusuf Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesperson, claimed credit for the project, implying that it was initially planned during the Taliban regime, and said the group will ensure its security in areas under its control.
“The Islamic Emirate views this project as an important element of the country’s economic infrastructure and believes its proper implementation will benefit the Afghan people. We announce our cooperation in providing security for the project in areas under our control,” the Taliban statement said.
The long-awaited 1,814-kilometers (1,130-mile) pipeline project, known by its acronym TAPI, which will stretch from Turkmenistan and feed gas to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, was officially inaugurated Friday by Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in the country’s western Herat province.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and India Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar participated in the inauguration ceremony, which was held amid tight security to prevent possible attacks aimed at disrupting the event.
The work on the Afghan part of the multibillion-dollar project has officially begun, and the project will take several years to complete.
Ghani said TAPI is the start of a new beginning for the region.
“We hope that this project [TAPI] will pave the way for hundreds of other projects and the hope is that our future generations will view this not only as the inauguration of a project and an economic corridor, but the foundation of a shared vision which will help us fight poverty, unemployment, extremism and insecurity in our region,” he said.
“The policy of cooperation will ensure prosperity for our people, and economic prosperity is an important pillar of security and stability,” Ghani added.
Taliban’s statement follows another statement by the group’s breakaway faction, led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool, which also said it would support the project and prevent domestic and foreign groups from jeopardizing the prospects of its success.
“We will not allow any group or state to disrupt this project,” Maulawi Abdul Manan Niazi said in a statement sent to local media.
It is very rare for Taliban insurgents to support a government project. The militant group is often accused of destroying bridges, roads, schools and other places of public interest in their attacks across the country.
?Militants linked to Iran
Meanwhile, provincial officials in Herat province told media that a group of 10 militants, who allegedly had been trained in Iran to attack the inauguration ceremony of TAPI, decided not to carry out the attack and instead surrendered to authorities.
“Enemies of Afghanistan have instructed them to disrupt the ceremony, but they [militants] realized that this project would benefit the Afghan people and the next generations of the country,” Herat province Governor Mohammad Asif Rahimi told RFE/RL Afghanistan service.
The Afghan Ministry of Interior said they would investigate the group’s claims.
“Every country involved in such disruptive attempts should know that one day their future generations will pay the price as the fire will reach them as well,” Murad Ali Murad, deputy minister of Interior, told local media without naming any country.
Iranian officials have not commented on this issue yet. Some Afghan officials, however, blame Tehran for supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, a charge Tehran denies.
TAPI vs IPI?
Another gas project by Iran, Pakistan and India, known by its acronym IPI, is also underway, and some analysts speculate that Iran might view TAPI as a rival to IPI and try to disrupt it.
Afghan President Ghani, however, rejected the notion that Iran is not happy with TAPI.
The United States supports TAPI and views it as an important project for all the countries that are party to it.
VOA’s Afghanistan service has contributed to this report.