"With Afghans one never can be certain"

Apr 27, 1998 02:00 AM

The warring Afghan factions are holding the key to the vast trade and business opportunities locked in Central Asia.
Pakistan, host to talks between the Taleban Islamic movement and the northern opposition alliance, has for years boasted that it is the door to the former Soviet Central Asian republics and that wealth will flow down the ancient "Silk Road."
But oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia to South Asia, huge hydro-electric and mineral potential as well as general trade have all been blocked by almost 20 years of continuous fighting in Afghanistan.
A steering committee is meant to prepare for a larger peace commission of Islamic religious scholars, or ulema, to set terms for the peace that has eluded Afghanistan for so long.

Pakistan's most serious effort to date to promote its claim as the shortest trade route to Central Asia will be the Central and South Asia Economic Summit to be convened in Islamabad on September 13-15 by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.
The revival of the "Silk Road," which in the distant past brought goods from Europe to China through Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, Pakistan and India, has caught the imagination of business leaders and world community since Central Asian republics became independent in 1991.
"The first Central and South Asia Economic Summit will seek to transform this vision into a meaningful and viable concept for the 21st century by highlighting its economic potential," according to a World Economic Forum statement.
"The Central Asian republics can meet the ever-increasing energy and commodity requirements of South Asian Countries", it said. "However, they need expertise, capital and technology to exploit their own potential. On the other hand, South Asia can offer business know-how, technology resources and consumer goods while needing energy and capital to develop its infrastructure."

The Afghan war has held up plans by US oil and gas company Unocal to build a $ 1.9- bn gas pipeline from the vast gas fields of Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan, which was earlier expected to be completed by 2001.
A recent economic conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) took up a proposal for a common electrical grid linking the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with South Asia and Chinese Tibet, according to a Pakistani researcher who made the proposal.
The 2 small Central Asian republics have a surplus power potential of about 35,000 MW, while 2 small South Asian countries also have a very large surplus potential - Nepal about 45,000 MW and Bhutan 15,000 to 20,000 MW, Aurangzeb Z. Khan, a research fellow at Pakistan's Institute of Strategic Studies, has said.
"I got very excited and I said: look, India and Pakistan and Bangladesh need so much electricity and there is so much electricity lying around, potential electricity," he has said of his research paper dealing with confidence-building measures between arch-foes India and Pakistan.
"So Ilooked at it a little further and then I found out that Tibet has the largest unused hydro-power potential in the world. Most of it in the south... along the Brahmaputra river... anything between 70,000 to 100,000 MW.
"So by adding 100,000 plus 65,000 from Nepal-Bhutan (and 35,000 MW in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), there is about 200,000 MW of electricity lying around... which could practically meet the entire needs of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for I don't know how many decades to come."

The World Economic Forum says establishing energy, communications and trade links between Central and South Asia would unleash tremendous productive forces within the region.
"Indeed, such linkages would result in the creation of a new regional economic zone which, given its size and population, could become the largest common market in the world," it said.
Some 400 Chief Executives of leading international and regional corporations, heads of state and government and ministers and senior officials fromthe region are expected to attend the Islamabad meeting.
Regionally active international organisations, academics, scientists and commentators will also participate.
The Forum said Pakistan was ideally located as host, straddling the 2 regions and being member of both the seven-nation SAARC and the 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organisation - created in 1985 by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey and extended in 1992 to Afghanistan and six Central Asian republics.
"Pakistan offers Central Asia the shortest routes of access to world markets," the Forum said. "Therefore it is bound to play a critical role in the flow of goods and energy resources between Central Asia, South Asia and the outside world."
Aurangzeb said Afghanistan would benefit from the royalties and jobs created by the oil and gas pipelines and their ancillary industries.
But he said he was sceptical that the potential would be realised any time soon. "With Afghans one never can be certain."

Source: not available
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