The politics of pipeline and Pakistan’s priorities

Caspian region aka Central Asian countries is said to be the “last unexplored oil bearing states in the world. Because of its oil reservoirs, countries of Caspian region are emerging as the most focused states in the world. After the Middle East oil reservoirs, the central Asian countries in general while Turkmenistan in particular, are underworld power focus. These central Asian states got importance after the fall of communist USSR. Since 1994-1998, 24 countries signed contracts with these states including American, European, Asian, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistani companies. Currently, Pakistan has signed multi-edge agreements and MOUs with Central Asian countries, especially with Turkmenistan government. However, it still depicts that our priorities are not the development of the FATA, Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and other restive areas of the country. There are also no signs of engagement in a holistic peace process with the neighbors as country’s foreign policy is not chalked out in the democratic parliament and the foreign policy preferences are centered on investing and promoting Madrassa-culture politics.

The central Asian states have opened up huge excitement amongst the energy and oil exploring companies of the world. The oil reserves in the region are estimated to be 50 billion barrels as compare to 22 billion barrel reserves of the USA, its proven oil reserves are between 16 to 32 billion barrels. Kazakhstan has the largest oil reservoirs with an estimated 85 billion barrels while its proven reserves are 10-16 billion barrels. Turkmenistan is the second-largest reservoirs of 32 billion barrels. Similarly, proven gas reserves in the Caspian region are estimated to be 236-337 trillion cubic feet as compared to that of 300 Trillion Cubic Feet (TCF) in the USA while Turkmenistan has the world’s 11th largest gas reserve estimated as 159 tcf.

After the dismemberment of them, then confederated USSR, the today’s Russia has been endeavoring to tighten its grip on what it still views as its frontiers in central Asia. And it constantly attempts to control the flow of oil through a pipeline that traverses Russia while the USA is thrusting herself into the back of proposed oil pipelines which would bypass Russia.

Undoubtedly, Russia’s stands on Ukraine and Syria are the examples of it. The Central Asian states have their own preferences, interests, and revelries. These states prefer to have direct deals and links with the world instead of Russia. Recently, China also plunged into the game and started swimming into the sea of oil. Besides, its network of seven corridors for each belt in the world; it is building China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from its restive Xinjiang region to Central Asia via Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The purpose is to secure stability for its Xinjiang province and secure necessary energy to fuel its rapid economic growth and extend its political influence in the critical border region. The Bridas a European company while uncial, American companies have already entered into the race for oil and energy in Central Asian state in 1994-2001. Bridas also explored the huge gas and oil reserves in the Yasher field in Turkmenistan and was opening its wings to enter into an agreement with the then Taliban government in Afghanistan but the revelries of Unocal and later the 9/11 incident put barriers in its way to implement its plans.

Looming above this fierce competition among the Russia, America, Europe and now China while attempting to approach the energy reservoirs in the culturally rich central Asian states, meanwhile Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran are also building their communications links with the region to be preferred routes of choice for future pipelines stretching from the East to West. Hence, Turkey and Iran agreed to build a gas pipeline to Turkey onto Europe that would cost $ 2.5 billion but the agreement didn’t remain fruitful as the USA didn’t want any route to Europe through Iran. However, Turkmenistan signed another agreement with the USA consortium to build a Turkmenistan-Turkey gas pipeline which will go under the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and avoid Iran. Bridas, an Argentinian Oil Company wanted to connect its gas fields in Turkmenistan to Afghanistan-Pakistan and Pakistan (TAPI). Bridas proposed building an 875-mile long pipeline from Yasher field in Turkmenistan, crossing Southern Afghanistan to Baluchistan and Multan in Pakistan that would later be extended to India. Pakistan and Russia on Friday signed an inter-governmental agreement for the construction of 1100-kilometer gas pipeline project from Karachi to Lahore.

Surprisingly, the politics is changing in the region as there is no permanent friend and foe in politics. Iran and the United States have no more revelry and regional opponents India and China have opened up borders to benefit each other. Iran and India welcome each other investment and India has invested in Char-Bahar port in Iran while it has also positively lent a hand to Afghanistan in the development of her various sectors and enhancing the skills of its human development.

If Iran and the world powers can go with each other if China and India can join hands for economic development and growth why can’t Pakistan and India, Why Can’t Pakistan and Afghanistan?

To transit oil and gas from rich Caspian states to the West and the rest, Afghanistan and Pakistan would be the only preferred routes in case interference and intervention are avoided in Afghanistan from the neighborhood and the peace is given a chance to prevail in Afghanistan. Now, the ball is in Pakistan’s court to determine its interests either it wants to go with a foreign policy prioritized with politics of Taliban or politics of pipeline.

(Writer is a political analyst of strategic and demographic trends in Asia. He can be reached at @avistakan)


The Afghan Tribune | Abdul Hai Aryan | Published: March 08, 2017, 09:45 AM


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