Pakistan President Ends Central Asia Energy Tour
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rounded off an energy-themed jaunt across Central Asia on May 22 in Bishkek, where he spoke about electricity exports to his energy-starved nation two days after visiting Turkmenistan to discuss a troubled gas-pipeline project.
The trip demonstrated Pakistan’s limited leverage in its dealings with Central Asia and, publicly at least, did not produce much of substance.
In Ashgabat, Sharif called on partners to “intensify work” on the long-stalled Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. In his meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on May 20, Sharif called TAPI a “project that would bring benefits to the entire region.”
But the pipeline, which would traverse Afghanistan and has been on the drawing board since the mid-1990s, may cost over $10 billion. With no commercial investor so far, initiative rests with both Turkmenistan, the would-be-supplier, and the main export market, India. Delhi must decide if its own energy deficit warrants pushing a link that many see as risky and expensive.
Neither president mentioned either the hoped-for 2017 TAPI completion date, or the more pessimistic projection of 2020 mentioned in late April by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (Many say both timelines are still pipedreams.)
Following his meeting with Berdymukhamedov, Sharif travelled to Bishkek, where he was met by new Prime Minister Temir Sariev. The two discussed the World Bank-backed regional electricity project CASA-1000, which would ship electricity from power-starved Central Asia to power-starved Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan, whose energy deficit is estimated at 40 percent of total demand, could certainly use the $1 billion-plus transmission line. Islamabad’s ambassador to Tajikistan has repeatedly called for completion of the project by 2017.
Yet neither supplier looks to be in a position to export: Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan face chronic blackouts. Moreover, despite its promises, Tajikistan is exporting a third less electricity to Afghanistan, another would-be CASA-1000 participant, than it did last year.
So in the wake of a domestic political scandal over how much their premier spends on trips abroad, Pakistanis might be asking themselves what exactly Sharif got out of his Central Asian tour.
Chris Rickleton is a journalist based in Almaty.