Afghan President Ashraf Ghani laid foundation stone Thursday for building a key transmission line linking Central Asia and South Asia under a four-nation electricity generation project, known as CASA-1000.
The $1.2 billion plan aims to bring some 300 megawatts (MW) annually of much-needed electricity to Afghanistan and 1,000 MW to Pakistan from surplus generation in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The project is being financed by multilateral development banks, the United States and other countries.
Afghan officials said diplomats from the participating nations also were present at the groundbreaking site, east of the capital, Kabul.
Ghani was quoted as saying the CASA-1000 project would go a long way toward promoting connectivity, energy cooperation and prosperity in all of the countries involved.
Thursday’s landmark development comes as relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to suffer from mutual suspicions and a trust deficit. The tensions stem from allegations Islamabad provides support to the Afghan Taliban and Kabul harbors anti-Pakistan militants.
Speaking to VOA after the ceremony, Pakistani ambassador to Kabul, Zahid Nasrullah Khan, said despite mutual tensions and disagreements, his government is determined to work closely with Afghanistan on projects like the CASA-1000 to promote regional connectivity.“
We are neighbors. Our destinies are tied and we have to work together to take our countries forward, and our opportunities are also interlinked. So, we will continue to push the relationship on the positive track,” Khan stressed.
The ambassador also underlined efforts Pakistan is making in facilitating a U.S.-led Afghan peace and political reconciliation process aimed at ending the 18-year-old war in the neighboring country. “
There is no other choice but peace. This is the only way forward. I am sure that all parties and all important regional countries, including Pakistan, are very much committed to taking this process forward,” Khan said.
When completed, CASA-1000 would doubly benefit war-ravaged Afghanistan as a consumer and as a transit country generating revenue.
Under the long-planned project, a transmission line more than 1,200 kilometers long connecting the four countries would be used to export of electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the summer months when Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have extra capacity. The two Central Asian nations have more power generation than they can use as melting ice swells rivers that flow through their hydroelectric generators.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has overcome its energy crisis as billions of dollars in Chinese investment over the past five years have led to the construction of nine new coal-based power plants in the country. Several more also are under construction, adding thousands of megawatts of new electricity to the national grid.
Islamabad recently has asked Tajikistan to revise certain clauses in the agreement under CASA-1000 project so surplus Pakistani electricity could be exported through the same transmission line, bringing much needed energy to people in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan during the harsh winters when they typically have an energy deficit.