25 years after its inception the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline is finally under construction. On Sunday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the $10 billion project near the city of Mary in southeastern Turkmenistan, where he was joined by Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari. The start of construction means that energy concerns of Pakistan and India will be dealt will to a great extent, but the pipeline has a wider implication. The images of the leaders taking part in various ceremonies together paints a picture of what a cooperating South and Central Asia can look like, an image that is made stronger by the recent success of the Heart of Asia conference.

The four countries have long planned the ambitious project to meet growing energy needs, but administrative issues and unrest in the region have so far delayed its realization. And although Afghanistan and parts of northwest Pakistan are still far from secure, all four governments feel that the pipeline can handle the risk. Furthermore, just as the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) prompted the military to clear out the regions in the north which contained Uighur militants, the pipeline’s construction will give impetus for all nations to improve their security in the regions where it passes through.

The Prime Minster was correct when he said “TAPI is not just a gas transit initiative connecting energy-rich Central Asia with energy-starved South Asia, but a trailblazing project that will open doors for greater regional economic collaboration and integration”. All four nations must be commended for sticking to the project despite massive difficulties – such as an invasion in Afghanistan – and for overcoming disagreements to finalize the deal. The key to regional harmony lies in economic projects that link nations together, which increases co-dependency and decreases animosity and mistrust.