CASA 1000 — a transformational project?

Ali Ashraf Khan

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in Tajikistan where on May 12 he attended the opening ceremony of the famous CASA 1000 project. This ambitious project, costing $ 1.17 billion, is based on the idea that in the summer months, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan have more electricity than they need as their hydropower dams fill to the brim with water from melting mountain snow. Much of this excess water simply overflows and is not used to generate electricity.
CASA 1000 is planned to convert the water resource into DC electricity and pass it by an electricity transmission line connecting Central Asia and South Asia to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Pakistan will establish a convertor sub-station at Nowshera to convert DC current into AC current. One question arises why our water & power ministry had not opted to develop this technology to generate electricity since last one decade? How smooth this arrangement will work only time will tell. We are told that 1,300MW of DC electricity from this surplus summer supply would reach us and Afghanistan from May to September only after erection of 470 Kilometer transmission lines and towers in Afghanistan and 755 km of transmission lines and towers on Pakistan side.
CASA 1000 is a World Bank project and it will need even if it goes according to plan until 2020 until first electricity could flow. The project has been approved in 2014 and its implementation since then has been delayed again and again and there are good reasons for that. The first and foremost of course is the security situation in Afghanistan. Though Afghan economy needs electricity and development creating jobs and income more than anybody else the current Afghan government seems ill prepared to see through such a project going through the length of Afghanistan. Many of the provinces and districts concerned are not or not fully under government control and are ridden by the ongoing civil war between the ANA and insurgent forces headed by the Taliban.
So far all efforts to come to terms with the insurgents have been futile and after the latest Taliban attack in Kabul–part of their spring offensive Omari-and the execution of several Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government the quadrilateral peace initiative is as good as dead. The peace efforts have been pursued under false preconditions. One is that the peace process was supposed to be Afghan-led. But again, the current Afghan government is not in the situation to lead – neither a peace process nor a country. Secondly, Pakistan has allowed itself to be put in charge of bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table. This Pakistan cannot deliver. And thirdly, the current format for peace talks that includes a distant country like the US and excludes neighbouring countries like Iran and Russia, is ill-conceived to tackle the problem. In order to bring peace to Afghanistan and secure the way for CASA Pakistan, Afghanistan and the international community need to change their Afghanistan-related policy and then start a new peace initiative. That will not happen even by 2020 when CASA is supposed to be working already.
The second problem concerns the very project structure itself. Can a project costing US $ 997.00 million and financed at least partly by loans that have to be repaid be run efficiently when it works only during the summer months? If this is to be made up through the prize for electricity then it will be very expensive. How will people and businesses in poor countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan pay for it? Some in Central Asia see the project as too risky and economically non-viable as well. Nikolay Kravtsov, a member of the Supervisory Board for Fuel and Energy Complex under the Ministry of Energy and Industry, is the most outspoken critic of CASA-1000. According to him, thanks to its rich hydropower resources, Tajikistan would be the primary benefactor from the project, while Kyrgyzstan would still be expected to invest up to $200 million for its implementation without much benefit to itself.
Another obstacle which we are ignoring is the India factor in Afghanistan. Since long India has already built a state-of-the-art motorway project spending $ 2 billion in difficult mountain region connecting Tajikistan via Afghanistan to Choubahar deep sea port to cater for Indian needs of Oil, gas and other items smoothly undermining the much talked about Economic Corridor reaching Gwadar port. Pakistani delegation should have protested at the inauguration function of CASA where Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan was shown as Indian territory by design that kept our delegation silent, those who watched on TV have protested our foreign office competance, where no less then the Chief Executive of government was present with three other countries head of government. CASA electric transmission can be thus jeopardized by the US+India+Afghanistan and Israel nexus when it wants to curtail Chinese expansion in Asia.
And there is another problem for Pakistan as well. Despite the soaring energy crisis there are considerable distribution and transmission losses, which in Pakistan is a polite expression for theft. Across the country, 22 per cent (other sources claim higher percentage of power losses) of the generated electricity is lost due to theft and some in transmission losses due to outdated transmission systems. Has anybody heard our Prime Minister or Water & Power Minister who are so eager for CASA 1000 to talk about upgrading our own transmission and distribution network or fee collection to arrest losses? CASA has a scant perspective of implementation at least for the years to come. But otherwise, it shows Pakistan a better way to tackle our energy problems: Pakistan is only using less than 40% of its water resources for generation of hydel power. Since last 4 decades Pakistan has tried to develop Kalabagh or Bhasha dam from where we could generate more than 6000 MW each. Instead of relying on water and power and pressing these projects our present rulers had announced half a dozen coal-fired power projects near Karachi coast, without considering the negative consequences that they will add to global warming. Coal based power generation is an outdated method. Why would Pakistan use this outdated and discarded by China technology? When our wheel of productivity has been jammed due to energy crises.
The propaganda that the Prime Minister and his government is making to serve his country in the first place the goal to depict so-called successes of his government with regard to the forthcoming elections in 2018 and to distract attention from Panama paper scandal to confuse the nation who are the major victim of financial corruptions, loot and plunder that is going on under International agenda. We pray to God to grant serinity and courage to our leaders to secure our national interest first. God bless Pakistan and humanity.\
— The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.

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