Four nation Dushanbe Summit: Words, More Words
Pakistan leadership sees Moscow’s initiative for the four-nation joint collaboration in energy sector with unconcealed skepticism. But it is playing the Moscow tune with an eye on Central Asian markets. Improved road connectivity is what it needs and it is willing to provide for this lucrative access. Its bait to entice Dushanbe, Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) is the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, which sits at the doorstep of Gulf shipping lanes, less than 200 kms from the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.
The summit in the Tajik capital was the third conclave of Asif Ali Zardari (Pakistan), Hamid Karzai (Afghanistan), Emomali Rakhmon (Tajikistan) and Dmitry Medvedev. The second summit was hosted by the Russian leader at his Sochi residence in August last year. Joint economic projects can help bring stability to the volatile region. Apart from terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking are the common problems that had brought the four nations together for the first time to a summit session in July 2009.
Moscow is keen to play a constructive role in improving security in the region, which, historically is an area of its influence. It sees an opportunity to expand its footprint in the region now that the US is determined to carry out a phased pull out of Afghanistan by 2014 and the ties between Washington and Islamabad have been hit by frostbite post- Raymond Davis episode and the clandestine American raid on Osama bin Laden’s safe home very close to the Pakistan capital.
Russia has just secured a further lease to its base in Tajikistan, which gives it an advantage and some clout. The present 10-year lease ends in 2013. Medvedev and Emomali Rahmon have agreed to extend the presence of Russia’s military in Tajikistan by 49 years. “We have paid significant attention to the issues of security of our countries and to regional security,” Medvedev said after their bilateral meeting.
Russia offers to pour money
The 1,700-kilometre TAPI has been on hold for many years due to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and discard over gas price. For cash strapped Afghanistan, TAPI will be a cash cow yielding huge revenue in transit fees. In fact, Pakistan also stands to gain financially from transit fees collected from the end consumer India. On its part, India has thrown a spanner in the works by expressing its unwillingness to pay around USD 14-15 per million metric British Thermal Units (mmBTU) proposed by Turkmenistan. This price is higher than the price India pays for liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Two factors have come to stall the project. One Pakistan’s reluctance. Two security concerns. Pakistan is no longer readily committing fully to TAPI despite the known American interest. That is because Islamabad has found geo-political- strategic and religious interest in Iranian gas. Also because China is interested in the Iranian venture, and Pakistan has an urgent need to please its all-weather friend after what has had happened in Xinjiang.
On its part, Tehran is working at breakneck speed to lay the pipeline from the South Pars field to the border with Pakistan. This is in sharp contrast to the fact that TAPI remains on the drawing board. Moreover, TAPI line will transit some 730 km through Herat, Helmand and Kandahar (Afghanistan), and 800 km through Quetta and Multan (Pakistan), before reaching Fazilka (India). This entire stretch dotted with rugged hills poses the gravest risk.
If it is Taliban on Herat-Helmand – Kandahar section, it will be Baloch insurgent groups that raise security concerns all along the pipeline route in Pakistan. Islamabad is, as of now, unable to protect its own gas fields in Balochistan and the gas pipelines that originate from the resource rich but backward province and go all the way beyond Lahore. Put differently, only a super human effort will see TAPI line materialize in the short to medium term that too after finding a consortium to finance and execute the project.
Therefore, Pakistan leadership sees Moscow’s initiative for the four-nation joint collaboration in energy sector with unconcealed skepticism. But it is playing the Moscow tune with an eye on Central Asian markets. Improved road connectivity is what it needs and it is willing to provide for this lucrative access. Its bait to entice Dushanbe, Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) is the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, which sits at the doorstep of Gulf shipping lanes, less than 200 kms from the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.
The China built port at what was a fishing village with a small port in a sheltered, deep water natural harbour with two bays forty years ago is not ready in all respects and has no road network connecting it with rest of Pakistan, Ports and Shipping Secretary Salim Khan told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament as recently as mid-August. The National Highway Authority of Pakistan was asked to lay 650 kilometres of roads to connect Gwadar but the work is yet to be done.
The port built at a cost of $ 240 million has neither sufficient water nor electricity supply. Salim Khan told the law makers that a Rs.10-crore project for converting hard water into potable water for Gwadar has failed.
Iran is supplying electricity. But it is not sufficient. And the present demand is met by commissioning generators, which has become a disincentive for the private sector. Only government agencies are using Gwadar port, which is conceived to have a military role, as the intelligence site, NightWatch points out.
This harsh ground reality did not come in the way President Zardari in selling some dreams during his bilaterals on the sidelines of the Dushanbe summit. Stepping up his pitch, he said “Russia and Tajikistan are already connected. We may consider the road link from Dushanbe to Chitral in Pakistan through Iskatul Gulkhana in Afghanistan. This would both be a shortest road by land and also link the ports of Gwadar and Karachi to Dushanbe and onwards to Russia”.
His interlocutors were impressed. It is not for nothing that Asif Ali Zardari has earned the sobriquet of Mr. Ten Percent in his country.
The joint statement issued after the summit meeting was silent on what response the Zardari proposal has received. It however underlined the need to equip Kabul to face squarely the post-NATO withdrawal phase of its security. “The heads of state emphasise that reduction of foreign military presence in Afghanistan should be accompanied by adequate increase of efforts by the participants of the international coalition for training and arming Afghan national security structures,” the joint statement said. The four nations also agreed to work closely to combat extremism and drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime.
Medvedev summed up the outcome thus: “I believe all of my colleagues are united on one issue: the responsibility for what is happening in our region will in the final account inevitably rest with our countries – Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Well, a well-reasoned remark it is; no one can dispute, more so since Moscow is not entertaining the thought of getting directly involved in Afghanistan’s security or for that matter the region’s security beyond the assertion ‘We (Russia) are ready to develop our cooperation with Afghanistan both in economic terms and in supporting a dialogue on security issues’.
-m. rama rao