While the outgoing government claimed the groundbreaking of  Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project as a great success, its detractors are terming it a deft PPP move for political gains during the upcoming elections. Whatever the reason and motivation behind it, one cannot deny the economic benefits that this energy-starved nation will accrue once the gas pipeline is completed.

Pakistan being a sovereign country has the right to decide what is in its best national interest, and there are no two opinions about the fact that our economic prosperity and security is inextricably linked to South Asia. Therefore, the next government owes it to the nation to remain steadfast in safeguarding the national interest and not allow any foreign power to jeopardise this much-needed lifeline for Pakistan. The traditional aversion to the projects initiated by outgoing governments and the impulsive streak to scrap them must give way to rational thinking divorced from party politics and only guided by national interests.

Equally important for Pakistan, its neighbours and the Central Asian States are the other two trans-regional projects of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the 1,227km electricity transmission line between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan known as CASA-1000.

TAPI was conceived in 1995 by Western multinational oil companies, who were working in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in the 1990s, in view of Russia’s refusal to allow them the use of the pipeline network in these countries that it controlled. These companies needed an independent export route avoiding both Iran and Russia. Thus, the project was launched in 1995 after Pakistan and Turkmenistan signed an inaugural memorandum. On April 2008, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India signed a framework agreement to buy natural gas from Turkmenistan. 

The CASA-1000 represents a landmark cooperation between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also holds the promise to establish and develop inter-regional linkages between Central and South Asia. The project devised on the similar lines as the North American grid spanning over 340,000km and European power system traversing a territory of 230,000km, though ambitious but seems achievable. A high level inter-governmental committee has already been established to evolve the modalities for its implementation, resolve technical issues and devise rules and regulations.

The implementation of CASA-1000 will require strategic actions and a long-term vision, private sector and government participation and the support of many partners. Ultimately, its realisation will deliver reliable and affordable electricity to regional countries, besides generating revenues for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Also, it will strengthen inter-regional cooperation, investments in social services and encourage community benefit-sharing. In addition to the commitment of the countries benefiting from it, the CASA-1000 has the support of the World Bank and other donor agencies.

Russia had initially opposed CASA-1000. But now it has not only expressed support, but also promised to contribute $500 million for it. This was publicly announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on the eve of 10th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting held in Petersburg that is, probably, one of the major steps towards the implementation of the project. Observers attribute this change in Russian stance specifically to wean away Turkmenistan from the Trans-Caspian energy ventures. The other reason advanced by some is that Russia might be contemplating to develop a geopolitical axis, extending from Russia across Central and South Asia to the Middle East as a strategy to counter US plan for Greater Middle East or Greater Central Asia.

It is important to mention that Pakistan government’s efforts in recent years to reach out to its neighbours and build regional linkages have also tremendously contributed to Russia’s support for the project and Pakistan becoming full member of the SCO.

Needless to say, Pakistan decidedly will be the biggest beneficiary of both TAPI and CASA-1000 when they materialise. Both these projects like IP have been in the pipeline for years waiting to be implemented due to the volatile situation in Afghanistan and other geopolitical developments. Even now their implementation depends upon peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan will have not only to facilitate the process of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan, against the backdrop of US withdrawal, but also stay away from taking sides in any eventuality occurring in that country. Further, it needs to mend fences with India that can also benefit from these projects.

As it is evident, TAPI and CASA-1000 have the support of USA, Russia and China, but Washington is bitterly opposed to the IP. The fact is that all the three projects are badly needed for Pakistan. The situation is quite complex and untangling this conundrum will pose a great challenge to the political leadership that will be mandated to run the affairs of the state in the polls.

Whatever the responses of the future government to these challenges may be, they must be guided by the geographical realities of our region.

    The writer is a freelance columnist. 

    Email: ashpak10@gmail.com