ASHGABAT - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on a mega mission to Turkmenistan, where the world leaders have flocked to the Global Conference on Sustainable Transport.
The mission is to convince the region and beyond of the unimaginable development benefits that could be accrued quite easily from the complementation of two ongoing mega regional projects – TAPI gas pipeline and the CPEC.
Ahead of the conference, being jointly sponsored by Turkmenistan and the United Nations in this capital city today, Premier Nawaz held a meeting with the Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov here Friday and discussed matters of bilateral and regional interests, especially the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.
Earlier, talking to media persons accompanying him, Premier Nawaz termed his two-day visit to the friendly state a first step to link Central Asia with South Asia via the TAPI that would develop all countries en-route economically.
He said it would not just be a gas pipeline as rail and road network would also be built along the route, besides laying fiber optic communication line. He said half of the world's population is in this region and the transformation of such a huge chunk of human beings would bring about a revolution in their life economically.
The prime minister said he would convince the region of the incredible benefits of harmonising the TAPI with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multi-billion multi-faceted project that connects southern China with Pakistan’s southern ports of Gwadar and Karachi.
To a question, the Premier said not only Russia but many other countries of the region have expressed their willingness to join the mega projects and added that Pakistan welcomed Russian initiative and would also welcome new entrants that would enhance the area of coverage of the project.
Neighboring Iran has already made a formal request to be made part of the CPEC, which has already been officially inaugurated with a huge caravan starting from China to reach Gwader and the onward shipment of cargo to the world destinations.
Iranian President Hasan Rohani, during meeting with Premier Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations in September last, expressed his desire that Chabahar port be made sister port of Gwadar.
Nawaz Sharif said once the rail and road networks were commissioned, the cargo will travel all the way to Gwadar Port thus creating a solid linkage between South Asia and Central Asia. Not only that a part of this cargo would be consumed in regional countries but new cargo would also be generated by them to be sent to other states.
About TAPI, he said Pakistan and India were making equal financial contribution to the gas pipeline project while Afghanistan was contributing 700 million dollars.
After his meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, PM Nawaz termed it both bilateral as well as multilateral in nature and extent.
"Turkmenistan President and I have become very close friends and we have decided that we (the officials of the two states) must meet twice a year - once in Islamabad and once in Ashgabat", he added.
During the meeting, he told President Gurbanguly that TAPI was a significant project which would help in meeting the energy needs of its member countries.
He also told him that the CPEC would usher in a new era of prosperity in Pakistan and in the entire region. The future of the region's population was linked with CPEC, he said, and added that Pakistan would welcome if any country was interested in joining this mega project.
Turkmenistan president seconded the prime minister on the importance of CPEC, terming it a project that would guarantee the region's progress and prosperity. He also lauded the vision of Nawaz Sharif in taking solid steps for strengthening Pakistan's economy and ensuring uplift of the people.
The PM is undertaking this visit at the invitation of Turkmenistan president, who is co-hosting the international conference along with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
He is accompanied by his Adviser on National History and Literary Heritage Irfan Siddiqi and Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi.
The conference, likely to be attended by around 1,500 participants including heads of state and government, ministers, civil society leaders and the UN officials, will discuss promotion and the role of sustainable transport towards achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
"Pakistan is keen to improve connectivity with Central Asian States by establishing transport and communication links. These will be conducive to tapping the potential of trade, economic interaction, people-to-people contacts and tourism," a statement released earlier by the foreign ministry said. It added that Pakistan and China had launched CPEC to provide seamless connectivity to Gwadar and Karachi ports.