OCT. 21 2016 (The Conway Bulletin) — It appears as if Pakistan is losing confidence in the West’s headline power transmission project in Central Asia — CASA-1000. It’s been talking to Russia and Turkmenistan about covering an anticipated shortfall in electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, undermining a core pillar of the project.
CASA-1000 is the World Bank funded project that will, when it is built in 2018, send electricity generated by hydropower stations in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to consumers in Pakistan via Afghanistan.
The $1.2b project was supposed to spearhead what Hillary Clinton, when she was US Secretary of State, had described as a new north-south Silk Road. The West has disengaged from Central Asia to a large extent since the drawdown of it militaries from Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, making new projects like CASA-1000 so important. The aim was to empower Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, tie both Pakistan and Afghanistan into a wider Central Asian economic sphere and restore confidence in the West’s commitment to the region.
But it may not be going to plan.
Leaders from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan gathered earlier this year to mark the start of CASA-1000’s construction. They shook hands and smiled. Now it seems that Russian and Turkmen leaders should also have been there.
Pakistan has, openly, been courting both Russia and Turkmenistan as back up energy suppliers. Its leaders appear to doubt the ability of both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to produce enough power during the freezing winters when their domestic demand spikes and water levels in their reservoirs, which feed the hydropower plants, fall.
There are also question marks over whether the Soviet-era infrastructure that both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are relying upon can cope with the demands of CASA-1000. The World Bank has promised funds to both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to boost power production but it may not be enough and it may come too late, in any case.
Russia has already told Pakistan that it will happily feed its power into CASA-1000 to make up the shortfall but, and this is the point, this would undermine the ethos of the project.
With Russia riding to the rescue, CASA-1000 risks making the West’s strategy in Central Asia look muddled.
By James Kilner, Editor, The Conway Bulletin
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(News report from Issue No. 301, published on Oct. 21 2016)