The United States of America (‘USA’) has come to play a crucial role in geopolitics across the world. This is especially true of the Middle East and Central Asia where the USA has always approached with hostility. In the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 attacks, the USA had developed a particular vengeance against Afghanistan which housed Al-Qaeda and their leader, Osama Bin Laden – the entities held responsible for facilitating the heaviest terror attack in the history of the country. More than 3000 people died in the attacks and it led to a quest by the USA to eliminate Al-Qaeda and combat terrorism in a manner that would make all fearful of the USA.
The impact of the 9/11 attacks was extremely distressing with the wide publication of the footage of the attack and it triggered a financial collapse with the stock markets suffering record losses. The evidence gathered by the USA pointed towards the responsibility of the attack being accorded to Al-Qaeda. Since Al-Qaeda was headquartered in Afghanistan and demands for cooperation with the USA had been rejected by the Taliban which ruled Afghanistan at that point, the USA and its NATO allies launched an attack against Afghanistan.
Fast-forward to 2020, the Afghanistan War has proved to be catastrophic and caused immense loss of life, destruction of property, economic collapse, and political instability. In February 2020, a US-Taliban peace deal was entered into under which the US forces were to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021. Further, the Taliban would have to provide guarantees to ensure the security of the troops, end their support of Al-Qaeda and deny the provision of a haven for terrorists. This deal was seen as a possible step towards a permanent ceasefire of the Afghanistan War and the progress in the tenuous relationship between the USA and Afghanistan for the last two decades. However, critics of the deal were of the opinion that the guarantees are given by the Taliban by which they would stop their association with terrorist groups were unrealistic and unreliable. There were apprehensions that such a deal could have negative impacts on the security situation in Afghanistan and many also believed that it had the potential to strengthen and bolster the Taliban’s aims regarding their agendas and how best those agendas could be pushed on the USA and the President Ghani of Afghanistan. This deal has not yet been successful as the Taliban have not disengaged with terrorist groups and Afghanistan has been subjected to severe attacks even in the wake of the deal.
One of the most crucial situations inherited by Joe Biden when he came to power at the beginning of 2021 was how to best deal with the Afghan mess. Intertwined with this is the fate of the TAPI Pipeline and whether the USA has any part to play in its construction and development. To recap, the TAPI Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline that aims to supply natural gas from the resource-rich Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The project was conceived as early as 1995. However, construction has not yet begun in full swing. The TAPI Pipeline is predicted to play a major role in the betterment of geopolitical regions in the area and has previously been supported by President Obama, Trump, and Clinton.
On the first day of his presidency, President Biden took the crucial step of scrapping the Keystone XL pipeline project. This pipeline, announced in 2010, was an extension of the already existing Keystone Pipeline System which would supply crude oil from Canada to the USA. The pipeline, in the ten years since its inception, became the epicenter of a fierce environmental battle with implications on public health. After Biden’s announcement to halt construction of the pipeline, many reported – starting from a widely shared Facebook post – that Biden canceled a pipeline project which may have benefitted the USA, but continues to fund and help build an Afghani pipeline or the TAPI Pipeline. The accusations included that the Biden administration was “pushing for pipeline jobs overseas” in an effort to “weaken America.” The reason this suspicion arose was due to an earlier article that suggested that the Biden administration had brokered a meeting in Turkmenistan for the development of the TAPI Pipeline. While the USA has always openly vouched for its support for the TAPI Pipeline, no meetings have been brokered by the State Department for its development. Moreover, the suspicion that was peddled by the Facebook Post and other articles, which infuriated a wide mass of the American public due to its seemingly hypocritical nature, was also false. The USA has never lent any assistance for the conception of the development of the TAPI Pipeline in terms of financial assistance or any expert assistance. This position has been supported by senior officials of the Biden administration. Notably, Marvin Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at the nonpartisan Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.; a former Afghanistan specialist at the State Department; and Jason Campbell, a RAND Corp. international security policy researcher and former country director for Afghanistan in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, have all said that they are not aware of any tangible assistance being provided by the Biden administration for the building of the TAPI Pipeline.
The official position of the USA State Department on the TAPI Pipeline can be summed up as follows – The USA "has long supported efforts by Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors to strengthen their connectivity, boost economic coordination and improve regional transportation infrastructure, including energy infrastructure."
Therefore, the Biden administration has come under severe criticism due to posts and articles which claim that the administration supports foreign pipeline projects and not ones that may benefit the USA itself. However, it has been clarified by fact-checking websites such as Politifact as well as Reuters that this is not the case. The stance on the pipeline by the Biden administration has been one of support and encouragement, but the project remains to be funded only by the Asian Development Bank and the involved countries. Both Democratic and Republican governments believe that the TAPI Pipeline is a key for stabilizing economic and geopolitical tensions in Central Asia and surrounding regions.
June 17, 2021