As the thaw in Uzbekistan continues apace, outlines of a new rush of regional comity have risen to the fore in Central Asia. But where photos of regional heads chumming on a couch and scaled-back rhetoric out of Tashkent about hydropower projects presents a welcome step forward, Central Asia’s region-wide infrastructure programs, despite plenty of official optimism, continue to muddle in a sort of project purgatory.
For instance, last week Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif landed in Dushanbe to laud the prospects of the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade (CASA-1000) project, which would transit excess Kyrgyz and Tajik electricity to Pakistani and Afghan markets. Joining Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov, and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Dawn reported that Sharif noted that five companies had already submitted bids on converter stations. Said the prime minister, “We must make efforts to ensure that the project is completed well in time.” While Afghanistan appears to have been brought back into the CASA-1000 fold, there’s been little movement on alleviating security concerns out of Afghanistan or supply concerns out of Kyrgyzstan. And given that the project’s proposed completion date is 2018, Sharif’s rosy outlook is still, as ever, at odds with CASA-1000’s on-the-ground prospects.
Elsewhere, the chairman of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, another maligned regional project sending Central Asian hydrocarbons to South Asian markets, pronounced that the pipeline would push forward, despite any number of obstacles remaining. Per TOLO News, the project’s chair, Muhummet Murat Amanov, announced that Turkmengaz had “completed its evaluation phase” and that pipeline construction through Afghanistan will begin “within a year.” An Afghan Foreign Ministry release noted that TAPI partners would also be looking to increase “public awareness programs” surrounding the pipeline, while a Turkmen statement awkwardly noted that construction “is carried out according to the plan.”
Unfortunately, that plan comes amidst increasing financial fears in Turkmenistan, watching its economic footing crumble that much further in the face of depleted gas pricing. Afghanistan, meanwhile, must still contend with its own security concerns — the likes of which have helped stall CASA-1000 and TAPI alike.
As the second half of 2017 opens, the rhetoric surrounding these two projects remains surprisingly positive. (And the potential for under-the-table payments continues apace.) But words are worth little when it comes to infrastructure projects drowning in stalled momentum and swamped in problems that show no signs of slowing anytime soon.