ISLAMABAD - Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, has said that Islamabad is committed to continue working with Kabul in pursuit of connectivity and energy projects linking Pakistan with Central Asia.
This was stated by the adviser while addressing a seminar on ‘Afghanistan Reconnected: Linking Energy Supplier to Consumers in Asia’ organised by East West Institute here on Tuesday.
“As a neighbouring and brotherly country, Afghanistan is close to us. Strong bonds of a common history, religion and culture reinforce our relations,” he added. Aziz said discussions are also continuing on extending Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) to Tajikistan by finalising the Tripartite Agreement under consideration of the three sides.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has clearly underlined the government’s priority in terms of addressing our energy needs in the short and long-term. We are keen on working with Afghanistan as a conduit for energy supply,” he said. Afghanistan has been facing conflict and instability for more than three decades. As a neighbouring country, Pakistan has consistently faced the fallout of this situation, he added.
It goes without saying that a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s vital national interest. “We remain committed to supporting efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan in an inclusive, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process.”
For over three decades, Pakistan has been host to one of the largest refugee populations in the world, despite dwindling international support and in spite of Pakistan’s own economic difficulties.
“About three million Afghan refugees still live in Pakistan, out of which about 1.6 million are registered. Just last month, we signed the Tripartite Agreement along with Afghanistan and UNHCR extending the stay of refugees till December 2015. We hope this time will be used to prepare for the return of the refugees to their homeland. We continue to believe that their early, honourable and voluntary return, as well as sustainable reintegration, is possible if conducive conditions are created inside Afghanistan,” Aziz said.
As a nation, there are not many choices in terms of neighbours. However, one can choose to have good-neighbourly relations to harness the synergies for mutual benefit. It is in this context, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has presented a vision of a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood, with stable and cooperative relations with all our neighbours including Afghanistan.
Last week’s visit to Pakistan by President Karzai at the invitation of the Prime Minister was part of this vision. The visit was helpful in building trust, enhancing mutual understanding, reaffirming the commitment to work together to promote peace and reconciliation, and determining ways to strengthen bilateral relations.
The Prime Minister also underscored Pakistan’s desire to comprehensively upgrade the bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, defined by a ‘strong trade and economic partnership.’ We envisage this partnership to be placing a strong emphasis on energy and connectivity projects.
At the meeting of the finance ministers on the occasion of President Karzai’s visit to Pakistan, the two countries agreed to work together in a number of energy and connectivity projects besides reaffirming their commitment to further strengthen trade ties under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).
Afghanistan has invited Pakistan for a joint investment in the Kunar Hydro Power project whose design and feasibility have been completed. The project will produce 1500MW electricity to be shared by the two countries.
Pakistan and Afghanistan would pursue with World Bank the early finalisation of 170 KM Torkham-Jalalabad new rail link connecting Peshawar with Jalalabad.
The two countries are also working on 11.5-km Chaman-Spinbolduk rail link that ultimately connects Chaman with Kandahar.
“Our region is blessed with immense potentials in terms of natural resources, which if tapped efficiently can yield benefits to the entire region. Afghanistan occupies an important position in the region, straddling Central, West and South Asia,” he said.
Pakistan is keen to continue working with Afghanistan in pursuit of connectivity and energy projects linking Pakistan with Central Asia. In this context, discussions are also continuing on extending APTTA to Tajikistan by finalising the Tripartite Agreement under consideration of the three sides.
As a country struggling to emerge out of decades of instability, Afghanistan is expected to face serious challenges, which can be overcome through a sustained effort involving financial and technical support, infrastructure and human resources.
Support of the international community for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development is, therefore, crucial for reinforcing the efforts for peace and reconciliation. Such support is required over the long term.
“We believe the Tokyo Conference is a step in the right direction in meeting Afghanistan’s development needs in the coming years. Afghanistan would also benefit from assistance in meeting its mutually agreed targets under the Tokyo Framework,” he said.
Pakistan, for its part, notwithstanding its limited resources, has been extending support to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development through contributions primarily to education, health and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, worth US$ 330 million.
There can be no two opinions about the critical role energy and connectivity have acquired for economic development and reconstruction as well as economic activities.
Afghanistan is ideally located to connect energy suppliers and users in its neighbourhood and beyond. For instance, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India gas pipeline (TAPI) and Central Asia South Asia (CASA-1000) are two such examples of projects which make Afghanistan a ‘connector’.
These projects hold substantial economic advantages for Afghanistan, in addition to speeding up its own reconstruction and development efforts. The downstream impact of such connectivity and energy linkages would also support many other service and auxiliary industries in Afghanistan and other countries involved in these projects.
“We also believe that increased intra-regional connectivity can unleash limitless opportunities for intra-regional trade and commercial activities, with dividends to all the countries involved,” he said.
In order for Afghanistan to play the envisaged role, it would require continued support, within and without. Internally, sustainable peace and stability would be critical for the energy and connectivity projects to take off.
Successful security transition by the end of December 2014, and assumption of full responsibility for peace and stability by the Afghan National Security Force and Afghan National Army would help the country prepare a helpful environment for the pursuit and development of energy and connectivity projects.
Next year’s political transition, through successful conclusion of the Presidential and Provincial Council elections, would also be an important factor.
Afghanistan would require financial support, including investment in its infrastructure and institutional development, including health, education and human resource development.
Afghanistan would also benefit from technical support in terms of conceptualising, initiating, operationalising, and sustaining the different energy and connectivity projects. The involvement of external donors including the World Bank is welcome, he said.
“I would like to underline that sustainability of peace in the region can be ensured through economic development — involving continued international engagement. Peace and stability in Afghanistan are not only in Pakistan’s interest, these are also essential for the success of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. For its part, Pakistan will committed to work with Afghanistan and regional and international partners to promote the common goals of peace, stability and prosperity in the region and beyond,” he concluded.