TAPI Pipeline Analysis - Part 4 - Pakistan
Although insecurity in Afghanistan poses the greatest threat to the TAPI pipeline, insecurity in Pakistan also threatens to derail the project. Passing through Pakistan's largest province, Baluchistan, often euphemistically referred to as 'restive' as well as the Southern Punjab, the TAPI pipeline is crossing the new militant heart of Pakistan. Following the Pakistan Army's offensive in South Waziristan and FATA, the focus of its war on terror has pivoted south and west, to Baluchistan, Karachi and other parts of Sindh as well as Southern Punjab, which is fast becoming a favoured recruiting ground for militant Islamist groups.
Plagued by unrest due to a combination of socio-economic factors- not least the Pakistani State's tendency to reap its resources, providing it with little to no services in return- Baluchistan is Pakistan's largest province and arguably, its greatest threat. An estimated 70% of its 13 million inhabitants live in poverty, creating a bedrock of support for militant groups in the province. Some of these are Baluchi freedom fighters who have been fighting a low level insurgency since 1962 but the Taliban and other Islamist groups have long had strongholds in the region also. Recently, the so called Islamic State group established a presence in the province also.
The TAPI pipeline will pass through the provincial capital of Quetta, a city where terrorist attacks are both frequent and deadly. At least 68 people have been killed in some 34 separate terrorist related incidents in the city- which has a population of just one million- in 2017 to date. Unrest and conflict in Baluchistan is growing, with more frequent attacks on police and security personnel as well as an increasing threat to migrants and workers; in just five days in November, the bodies of 20 Punjabi migrants were discovered in the Turbat region of the province. The murders were claimed by the Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF) one of a number of militant groups active in the province. This follows prior attacks on security forces, including police, politicians and migrant labourers working on State sponsored projects.
Quetta security incidents, September 1st to November 15th. Incidents highlighted include attacks on security personnel and an audacious attempt on a school bus. (Click on above image to expand)
Though the Pakistan State is a vocal supporter of the TAPI project as a whole, it simply does not have the resources needed to ensure the security of the pipeline. The TAPI pipeline and its security are in reality a low priority for the Pakistani government who are heavily engaged in Operation Raddul Fasad, a renewed offensive against terrorist groups across the country involving the army, police, paramilitary forces as well as levies personnel. In terms of infrastructure projects, the much larger China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also diverting attention and potential resources from TAPI in Pakistan.
The greatest threat to the progress of the TAPI pipeline in Pakistan thus comes from a somewhat unlikely source, another multi-national infrastructure project. Involving the development of land and sea routes as well as a broad improvement of infrastructure and trade between China and Pakistan, this ambitious project, part of China's wider Belt and Road initiative, is worth some $46 billion to Pakistan and consequently, it is the focus of security operations in Baluchistan and beyond. In comparison, protecting the TAPI pipeline is a secondary priority. Though this may also mean that the TAPI is a secondary target for militant groups when compared with CPEC targets, that does not negate the very real and likely security risk posed by the number of active and deadly militant groups in the region.
The relationship between these two neighbouring states is plagued by border incursions, distrust and accusations on both sides. The TAPI pipeline potentially represents an issue on which Pakistan and India could work together; conversely, their fractious relationship could also endanger the project. India's consumer needs could provide the necessary push to ignore other issues and work together with Pakistan, in so much as is necessary, to ensure the project is a success. However, even getting to that stage poses a huge challenge.