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Pakistan, Tajikistan and CPEC

Pakistan, Tajikistan and CPEC

April 4, 2018

Navid Aman Khan

Republic of Tajikistan, formerly part of the {erstwhile} Soviet Union, has an area of 143,100 square kilometers and a population of 7.5 million. This beautiful country borders with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan Afghanistan and China. It is separated from Pakistan by the Wakhan Corridor in north-eastern Afghanistan. This narrow strip of Afghan territory acts as a barrier between Central Asia and Pakistan, while stretching westwards to link Afghanistan with China. Afghanistan remains buffer between the two powers. That is why no territory previously under the British Raj touched Central Asia directly.

The development of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the larger One Belt One Road Initiative provides Pakistan access to Tajikistan from Gilgit-Baltistan via China using the Karakorum Highway. Pakistan is able to bypass Afghanistan to access Tajikistan. This also implies that Tajikistan is Pakistan’s nearest Central Asian neighbor and Pakistan’s gateway to Central Asia. It also highlights importance of Gilgit-Baltistan in ensuring Pakistan’s linkages with China and Central Asia, which is essential for the geo-economic future of Pakistan. Pakistan and Tajikistan share many historical, religious and cultural linkages besides geographical proximities.

Pakistan and Tajikistan are members of various international organizations. As Muslim majority countries, both are part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). They are also members of the Economic Cooperation Organization, Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process. Such shared groupings between Pakistan and Tajikistan offer numerous opportunities for interaction to take place between the leaders, delegates and diplomats of both countries on the sidelines of various summits. This is thus a contributory factor to the cordial relations between Pakistan and Tajikistan.

Pakistan and Tajikistan are also part of Quadrilateral Transit Traffic Agreement, the current signatories of which are Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. During the March 2017 ECO Summit in Islamabad, the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held talks with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon on the sidelines of the Summit and reaffirmed Pakistan’s support for the in principle approval of Tajikistan’s accession to the QTTA . Perhaps the QTTA will soon have to be renamed as it would no longer be “Quadrilateral” but rather a “Pentalateral” agreement.

A very significant initiative that binds Pakistan and Tajikistan together is the CASA-1000 project i.e. the Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Program), one of the direct linkages between South Asia and Central Asia. CASA -1000 is a landmark energy export agreement between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan (two Central Asian and two South Asian countries) as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan generate electricity using hydropower, they enjoy a surplus of electricity during the hot summer months, while suffering from energy deficits during cold winter months. The excess electricity generated in summer cannot be stored and used in winter; much of this electricity is wasted.

In Pakistan, demand for electricity peaks during summer and the country often experiences load shedding. Energy is currently the top issue on Pakistan’s public policy agenda, along with CPEC. Solving the power crisis is crucial to Pakistan’s poverty alleviation and economic development. Moreover, energy is critical to the ruling party the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Now-former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been going around the country promising to end load shedding forever in Pakistan by 2018.

Energy is not just about electrical power, but also political power for the PML-N. Delivering on its electricity promises is instrumental in upholding the popularity of the PML-N amidst the recent judicial ruling that led to the dismissal of Sharif.

The CASA-1000 project is, if implemented, a win-win situation for both South and Central Asia. If Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan can sell excess electricity to Pakistan in the summer, they will be able to use the revenue gained to manage winter shortages.

Afghanistan announced last year that it would abandon its proposed 300 megawatt share of energy imports via the CASA-1000 project due to a lack of demand. Its allocation would then be transferred to Pakistan, which is now set to receive 1300 megawatts, rather than the initial 1,000 megawatts proposed. Thus Pakistan would be the main importer of energy under the CASA-1000 project.

In early July 2017, Nawaz Sharif paid two-day official visit to Tajikistan, his fourth since June 2014. The President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, has visited Pakistan twice since November 2015. Importance of road, rail and air connectivity, which is crucial for regional integration and the promotion of bilateral trade, tourism and people-to-people contacts is need of the time.
Pakistan’s infrastructure developments, supported by CPEC, can function as a mechanism to provide Afghanistan and the Central Asian States access to the Arabian Sea and thus potentially lead to higher regional trade volumes.

Pakistan is not just a South Asian country; it is a country with multiregional characteristics. Pakistan’s geo-strategic location, situated along major trade routes that link regions with each other, plays the role of a catalyst in boosting not only trade levels within the region but also the aggregate global trade volume. The focus that Pakistan has placed on infrastructure development, though often criticized for being at the expense of the social sector, has provided Pakistan with something to offer its neighbours in Central Asia in terms of access to the Arabian Sea as well as other spillover effects from CPEC. From observing the manner in which Sharif promoted the economic attractiveness of Pakistan abroad it can be inferred that infrastructure is now not only a developmental issue but it can also be used as a tool to achieve foreign policy objectives. This increases Pakistan’s bargaining power when dealing with regional powers. Tajikistan is the most important Central Asian country for Pakistan, as it is Pakistan’s gateway to Central Asia. CPEC will link Afghanistan and Central Asian States with Pakistan and China and rest of the world. Undoubtedly CPEC will bring economic, political and social harmony in the entire CASA countries


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