PERHAPS the most important decision taken by the Federal Cabinet, meeting under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Gilani at Lahore on Wednesday, was to give its approval to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Information Minister Kaira, who briefed the journalists about its proceedings, denied the charge that the government was going ahead with this source of the supply of gas under pressure from the US, which did not want Pakistan to benefit from the Iranian deposits to put a squeeze on Irans economy. However, the reality, as it emerges from the numerous public statements top US administration officials have been making over the years, as well as the easier and cheaper access that Iranian gas fields provide, tell a different tale. In case there had been no pressure to construct TAPI in place of IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India), there was hardly any justification to consider the TAPI project. Besides, the reservations about the project, which Petroleum Minister Naveed Qamar expressed last month, are noteworthy. He talked of the raging insurgency in Afghanistan and any eruption of tension with India as factors that make it difficult to say when the final agreement could be signed. He pointed out, though, that leaders of the four countries would be meeting next December to sign a framework agreement. The chaotic situation in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, through which the pipeline would be passing, make the project a highly risky venture. It is even difficult to predict whether once the Americans had withdrawn, things would get any better to let the Turkmen gas pass peacefully. The post-Soviet scenario, however, should be a big dampener. There is no doubt that Turkmenistan has the worlds fourth largest deposits of natural gas, with the Daulatabad fields fully developed and the Lolotan fields being under development, and Pakistans energy needs are increasing exponentially. We must also note that major consumers like China, Russia and the West are eyeing these deposits covetously. China has already launched the 7,000km long pipeline. The TAPI pipeline would run 2000km carrying 30 billion cubic metres a year and cost $7.5 billion. While TAPI should not be ruled out as an option, its viability would only become evident when the situation in Afghanistan has stabilised, which is hard to visualise for the foreseeable future. Thus for the present, the best option for Islamabad is to firmly stand its ground, telling off Washington that access to the Iranian source is a matter of national interest over which there could be no compromise.