Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

Pakistan has struggled to improve its economic cooperation with the Central Asian Republics. Therefore, it has been focusing seriously on constructing gas and electricity projects, which is essential for realizing its economic connectivity with Central Asia.

Indeed, these projects facilitate enlarging trade and cooperation across the region while also supporting peace and security in war-torn Afghanistan and addressing the energy challenges of Pakistan.

Pakistan has been encountering energy deficiency. Its domestic gas resources are depleting, and energy demands are increasing due to a surge in economic activities and population growth.

Therefore, Islamabad has adopted an energy-mix policy—fossil fuels, hydropower, renewables, and nuclear power—to ensure the smooth supply of energy to the general public and to sustain economic growth. Pakistan and Turkmenistan’s cooperative initiatives last week were remarkable in this context.

Islamabad and Askhabad are working to actualize two important energy projects—Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) transnational gas pipeline project and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) transnational power transmission line project. These projects have immense potential to alleviate the energy woes of Pakistan and Afghanistan and boost Turkmenistan’s revenues via the sale of gas and electricity.

The regional geopolitical environment is not conducive to the implementation of these projects. The Afghanistan situation is not encouraging for the international consortiums to finance the country’s construction of a 774km gas pipeline. Despite it, Islamabad seems determined to complete the project.

On June 8, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said, “We have to negotiate with this challenge through speedy action.” He added that completing the TAPI gas pipeline project “will be a game-changer for the region in terms of enhanced economic cooperation.” Hence, he directed the Pakistani team to expedite the 826km pipeline Pakistani section planning and execution.

Despite India’s distancing from Eurasian cooperation, Premier Shahbaz’s commitment to developing projects sprouted optimism about the realization of TAPI and TAP schemes soon. On June 7, 2023, the ministerial-level dialogue took place to implement these energy projects between Pakistan and Turkmenistan in Islamabad.

The Pakistani delegation was led by Mr. Khurram Dastgir Khan, Federal Minister of Energy of Pakistan, and the Turkmenistan delegation was led by Mr. Maksat Babayev, State Minister and Chairman of State Concern Turkmengas and Mr. Annageldi Saparov, Deputy Minister of Energy. Both sides agreed to maintain regular contact between the Technical Working Groups of Turkmenistan and Pakistan on implementing joint energy projects.

Pakistan and Turkmenistan also signed TAPI Joint Implementation Plan in the presence of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on June 08, 2023. While expressing his gratitude to Turkmenistan President Serdar Berdimuhamedow and his team, Premier Shahbaz said the TAPI gas pipeline project would usher in an era of cooperation and regional prosperity. He tweeted that the Joint Implementation Plan was “a step forward for the execution of the project.”

The TAPI project is a 1,814km trans-country natural gas pipeline across four countries. Its estimated cost is $10 billion having a pipeline diameter of 56in and a working pressure of approximately 10,000 kilopascals (kPa), capable of transporting 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas a year. In May 2014, a stone-laying ceremony was held to commemorate the start of pipeline construction in December 2015 in Mary, Turkmenistan, near the Galkynysh gas field.

The pipeline starts from the Galkynysh gas field in Turkmenistan, passes through western Afghanistan alongside the Kandahar-Herat highway (774km), and then via Quetta and Multan (826km) in Pakistan. The final destination of the pipeline will be the Indian town of Fazilka, near the border between Pakistan and India.

Importantly, Turkmenistan has already constructed the 214-km long Turkmenistan section of the pipeline from the Galkynysh to the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan border. So far, neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan has started construction work on the pipeline. Whereas India presently seems disassociated from the project.

If Kabul and Islamabad construct their portions, both states will begin importing the gas from the Galkynysh field without disturbance. Hence, India’s detachment from the venture does not derail the project. Moreover, India’s discouraging attitude towards the TAPI gas pipeline project resulted in its omission from the TAP power transmission line project, which will run parallel to the gas pipeline.

To conclude, the operationalization of TAPI and TAP is imperative for the energy security and socio-economic prosperity of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. Hence, these three stakeholders need to initiate work on the projects immediately.

 

*Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor and Director at the School of Politics and International Relations Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: jaspal_99@hotmail.com Twitter: @zafar_jaspal

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