Quadrilateral moot at Dushanbe

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Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan presidents' recent quadrilateral meeting in Dushanbe is not the first of its kind and is unlikely to be the last.

The reason is not only the fact that there is tremendous potential for enhanced trade between the four nations that, without doubt, encapsulates a win-win situation for all, but an equally potent reason is the security concerns of one country that are impacting on the other.

The potential for trade is yet untapped.

While Tajikistan is the poorest country out of the former Soviet states with aluminium, cotton and remittances as its main source of income, yet it has the potential of generating surplus energy much coveted by the energy-starved Afghanistan as well as Pakistan.

Tajikistan's rivers, the Vakhsh and the Panj, have great hydropower potential, and President Rahmon's government has focused attention on attracting investment for power projects that would give impetus to electricity exports.A look at Tajik generational capacity is in order: Nurek dam remains the highest in the world; additionally the Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric power station (670 MW) constructed with Russian assistance commenced operations on 18th January 2008.

Iran too, has been a natural ally and was the first country to establish an embassy in Dushanbe with the Iranian company Zerafshan and the Chinese SinoHydro engaged in the construction of the Sangtuda-II Rogun power plant, at a projected height of 335 metres (1,099 ft), which would supersede the Nurek Dam as the highest in the world with 3600MW capacity.

Tajikistan also has sizeable coal deposits and reserves of natural gas and petroleum.

This underlines the potential for electricity exports to energy-starved Afghanistan and Pakistan and the reason behind the ongoing investment of the Iranian and neighbouring Chinese, reliant on energy imports to fuel the wheels of industry, to develop Tajikistan's generational capacity.In the context of trade in energy one cannot ignore the exclusively bilateral Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project that continues to be subjected to delays that were initially sourced to Iran's decision to raise the price to a level that made its purchase economically unviable thereby resulting in India backing out of the deal, but also geopolitical considerations whereby the United States has and continues to play the role of a spoiler.

Recently, there was considerable muscle flexing by the Gilani administration leading to a series of defiant statements by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Dr Asim Hussain where support for the IP gas pipeline, irrespective of US concerns, was reiterated.The Obama administration officials subsequently denied threatening Pakistan with dire consequences, if the IP gas pipeline project was implemented.

However the World Bank, whose head is appointed by the US President, announced the approval of a one billion dollar package to Pakistan's energy sector, inclusive of Tarbela enhancement, which for all intents and purposes had been scheduled in December 2011 and which was delayed due to what many claim was the failure of the Pakistani government to implement critical power sector reforms.

Analysts link the approval of the loan to Pakistan cooling its heels with respect to the IP, a view that they substantiate by pointing out that the announcement of the cessation of assistance by the World Bank to Pakistan, subsequent to the 1998 nuclear explosions had come from the US State Department.Security however remains a major issue; at present the major threats to regional security continue to be Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal belt represented by insurgencies allegedly led by the Taliban and the alleged Quetta Shura.

Tajikistan remains unaffected by these insurgencies, though the fact that it is contiguous to Afghanistan and remains separated from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the narrow Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the south raises legitimate concerns about its future security.

However drug trafficking is the major illegal source of income in Tajikistan as it is an important transit country for Afghan narcotics bound for Russian and, to a lesser extent, Western European markets.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan governments are struggling to free their countries from this menace and there is ample opportunity to cooperate in this area.Agreements and memoranda of understanding aside, there has been little development in any significant trade-related area between the four countries.

The reason is the interest of the US in the region evident from Marc Grossman's presence in Dushanbe at the same time as the quadrilateral moot.

Grossman has already met with President Zardari and been told to revisit US policy with respect to Pakistan on a number of issues including drone strikes.

However, it is fairly well-known that Grossman is in a position to only make recommendations whose approval and subsequent implementation would depend on President Obama, whose focus now appears clearly to be on re-election rather than on mending fences with its ally Pakistan.

Courtesy: Business Recorder

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