TAPI, CASA 100 Projects To Spur Regional Development

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JANAN MOSAZAI
Ambassador of Afghanistan talks to DNA and Centreline
Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

Janan Mosazai, Ambassador of Afghanistan gave an exclusive interview to DNA and Centreline and discussed a variety of bilateral and regional issues. His particular focus was on improving and strengthening bilateral relations besides early completion of projects such as TAPI and CASA 1000 which  will bring peace and prosperity in the region. Here are excerpts from his interview.

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Let us begin with the recently held TAPI summit in Pakistan, would you like to share more details about this conference?

Before I address this particular meeting held in Islamabad, let me emphasize that there is a dire need to bring energy from the Central Asian region to the South Asia because the latter is an energy-deficient region. Both in Afghanistan and Pakistan demand for energy has increased considerably, therefore, projects such as TAPI and CASA 1000 have acquired added significance. The TAPI project was initially conceived keeping in view needs of the energy-deficient countries, but unfortunately owing to turmoil in some of the regional countries, lack of agreement and understanding among countries involved and the role of large multi-national companies that had to be brought on board to accomplish this multi-billion dollar project, it was delayed for a long time. It is said that the TAPI is the longest planned pipeline project in the world.

The encouraging aspect is that there exists a wholesome understanding and agreement between both the buyer countries including Afghanistan, India and Pakistan and the seller country Turkmenistan, to accelerate the pace of work on the project for export of the natural gas to the South Asian region.  While Afghanistan needs the natural gas it is also ready to act as a transit country. In the recently held steering committee meeting there was an agreement to see an early selection of multi-national company as the leader of the consortium, which we hope will happen in the near future, paving way for further progress on the project. Once we successfully complete the legal and contractual process, I am fairly optimistic that the project would be completed sooner rather than later.

This project will have massive impact on the region because once in place, it would usher in a new era of progress besides giving an added impetus to business activities. It may not be possible to give a time frame for completion of the project at this particular stage, nevertheless one should hope people of the region would start reaping benefits of this project in the short term.  We are holding next meeting of the steering committee in March this year in Kabul in order to review the progress since the last meeting held in Islamabad and what needs to be done in the coming days.

We do not foresee a major security concern for the TAPI project because this project will follow the Highway 1 route which is generally considered quite safe and secure allowing   thousands of vehicles to ply on this road every day.  Additionally, we will ensure security of the pipeline by deploying well trained security personnel along the route.  Moreover, we plan to engage the communities through which the pipeline will pass so that not only they benefit from the project but must also take care of it. In a nutshell, security will hopefully not be a major issue for TAPI project.

However, I must say here that security is an issue for both Afghanistan and Pakistan and the region at large.  We have been bearing the brunt of terrorism, extremism since long. We direly need to tackle this menace for the safety and security of the region. This is a rare moment of opportunity right now since we have established a government of national unity in Afghanistan.

After your President Mr. Ashraf Ghani’s last visit to Pakistan, it appears both sides have an understanding to give new dimensions to our bilateral relations. Is that true? What are the key points or issues that both sides need to grapple with in order to have improved relations?

If you go back in history, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have so much in common such as religion, geography, languages, culture, food and beliefs.  We even share blood as millions of Pakistanis would trace their ancestries in Afghanistan. With this historic perspective in mind and taking into account the fact that our security, development and stability are indivisible, President Ghani reached out to Pakistan in a significant way. He was warmly received here and the atmosphere in the relationship has seen a positive change setting a strong basis for dialogue on security as well as other issues.

Likewise, we have had very good discussions not only on enhancing people to people relations but to give new dimensions to our trade and economic ties. More importantly, there is an understanding between the two sides that we must be on the same page to fight against common threats that we are faced with including the threat of terrorism.

CASA 1000 is yet another important regional project because it will have a significant impact in terms of confidence building that is why we call CASA 1000 a peace line. Work on that project has progressed very well and I am hopeful we shall be able to complete this project by 2017 or even by the end of 2016. The completion CASA 1000 will not only bring electricity to Pakistan from Central Asia thru Afghanistan but also to prove that the regional cooperation in this region is working.

There are ostensibly others areas where Pakistan and Afghanistan can cooperate. These sectors include road and railways connectivity; hydro electricity projects including the Kunar hydro electricity dam project which we have agreed to build together. Similarly we have agreed to double bilateral trade to USD 5 billion a year. Then we have announced special economic zones in the North Afghanistan exclusively for the Pakistani businessmen to attract them to invest there.

It is quite rare that a head of state meets with the military chief of another country. Of course there are many divergent interpretations on your President’s meeting with Chief of the Army Staff. What are your views on this particular meeting?

President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan was significant in many ways. He reached out to all segments of state and society. He had a very cordial and constructive dialogue with President Mamnoon and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He also interacted with the businessmen community in Pakistan besides meeting with leaders and members of various political parties. As part of that outreach, the President accepted an invitation from the Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif and visited the General Headquarters and held useful and constructive discussions on the security situation prevailing in the region.  Tens of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan at the hands of terrorists for which we need to do everything that is necessary to bring an end to this menace for good.

Let me also share another significant development that there are six Afghan cadets who have recently joined the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul and now undergoing training with the Pakistani cadets.

In your recent meeting with PTI Chairman Imran Khan you sought some concessions for the Afghan refugees living in Peshawar. Can you share more details about that meeting and its agenda?

The issue of presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is an important one. People of Pakistan had opened their arms and hearts for Afghan refugees. Let me also share with you that the Afghan refugees are now going back to their country and their numbers in Pakistan are smaller now as compared to the past. We are grateful to the people and government of Pakistan for taking care of their Afghan brethren in difficult times. Afghan refugees have lived a peaceful life in Pakistan and there hasn’t been a single case of terrorism or major crime where Afghan refugees have been involved. Petty crimes and small issues are common things that take place everywhere.

 In addition, in our view Afghan refugees have not been a burden on Pakistan economy and have in fact contributed to its economy. They have received remittances from family members who live in the West or Gulf countries bringing in a sizeable amount of  foreign exchange to Pakistan.

It is in the interest of both Afghanistan and Pakistan that we treat the refugees’ issue with sensitivity because we have a strong commitment in our country to facilitate the return of all our refugees from Pakistan.  We have already discussed this issue with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that this happens in a dignified manner.  I also discussed these issues with Imran Khan and I am pleased to share with you that he was highly receptive and positive in his response.  We also discussed the understandings reached between President Ghani and Prime Minister Sharif for closer engagement in all areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan believes people like Mulla Fazaullah are hiding in Afghanistan and using Afghan soil to carry out attacks on Pakistani security as well civilian people. Of course Afghan side too has some similar complaints. My question is, how can we remove this atmosphere of mistrust?

I think we have made a lot of progress in building trust between the two sides.  For us in Afghanistan our position is very clear that there is no good or bad Taliban. All terrorists who commit atrocities and kill innocent people are terrorists and they need to be fought regardless of their names; affiliations and origins. It is based on very clear analysis that we have reiterated to work our neighbours, especially Pakistan, to put an end to this menace once and for all. There is no single country solution to the challenges posed by terrorism and extremism. Therefore, we must work together and it is my fervent hope that we will be able to sustain and further strengthen the momentum of this cooperation.

As I mentioned earlier, we have agreed to promote and cement people to people as well as economic relations in order to realize a great potential that is there between Afghanistan and Pakistan for the benefit of peoples of both countries and the region.

6          As reported in media, when our army chief met with Afghan leadership soon after the Peshawar school incident, it was agreed to launch a joint military operation against Mullah Fazullah and others hiding in Kunar province? Can you share more details about that?

Joint operation has never been an option nor was it discussed at any level, even during the meeting of Pakistan Army Chief with Afghan leadership. Our focus is on coordinated operation and this operation is not just confined to the Durand Line but encompasses the full spectrum of relations between the two countries.

7          After NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, do you think the Afghan security forces are capable enough to deal with various security threats, especially the threat of Islamic State (IS)?

In terms of the capacity and capability of national security they are capable enough to deal with all such threats. Moreover, the full public support is with them. Afghan national security forces have been operating independently since the summer of 2013 so for almost two years that they are on their own. A small number of international forces that will stay in Afghanistan will only have a support role. They will not have a combat role and the Afghan security forces will be wholly responsible for the security of the country. The recently held Afghan local councils and presidential elections are a clear manifestation of our security forces capability of managing the security related issues effectively. There were hundreds of attacks and attempted attacks during the election drill but millions of Afghans came out to cast their votes only because our security forces ensured conducive security conditions.

Extremism is a regional concern also and to be able to tackle this issue both Afghanistan and Pakistan must work together. As I mentioned earlier there is no single country solution which calls for greater collaboration to put an end to curses like terrorism and extremism. Yes, Islamic State or Da’esh is a threat to this region and this is yet another reason for our two countries and other regional countries to enhance cooperation to prevent this menace from making inroads into our region.

We have heard Mr. Abdullah Abdulla may visit Pakistan. Can you confirm this visit?

The Chief Executive Mr. Abdullah Abdullah will visit Pakistan but I do not have any firm dates. High level exchanges between Afghanistan and Pakistan continue and Mr. Abdullah Abdullah’s visit to Pakistan is a part of these.

As you said people to people contacts between the two countries must be strengthened. Can you share your plans in this regard?

It is essential between neighbours that we have deep and regular people to people relations. We have had several parliamentary exchanges with Pakistan and media exchanges as well. I think we need to increase the level of media exchanges followed by exchange of cultural, educational and business delegations as well. We hope we will be able to further strengthen the exchanges of various delegations in the days to come.