THE APT GAME OF CASPIAN SEA

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Dr M Ali Hamza

The APT (Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Turkey) ties should not surprise anyone, as Pakistan and Turkey were the first two nations that recognized Azerbaijan as an independent country following the collapse of USSR. Pakistan and Azerbaijan are considered as strategic partners, whereas Turkey and Azerbaijan are often branded as ‘one nation with two states’ because both are Turkic countries. Pakistan and Turkey has always extended the support to Azerbaijan in its efforts to consolidate its independence, preserve its territorial integrity and realize its economic potential arising from the rich natural resources of the Caspian Sea.

The Caspian region is one of the important focal points for world geopolitical game.Thestrategic value of the region is determined by the factors that Caspian shelf is among the richest oil fields in the world. Estimations proclaim 3% and 4% of the world total crude oil and natural gas reserves: 17 and 33 billion barrels and 232 trillion cubic feet respectively, in the Caspian region. Moreover  the Caspian region, covering Caucasia, adjacent to the sea areas of Russia, northern Iran and western parts of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and located in central part of Eurasia, thus Caspian area  is situated between politically and economically importantregions of the world : Europe, Middle East, South and East Asia and providesthe best land routes connecting these regions.

Since mid-1990s there has been an active phase of geopolitical game around the Caspian Sea. It has become obvious that it possesses enormous oil and gas potential. The main feature of the mid 1990’s was competing interests of the western countries and Russia over the issue of pipeline routes.At present most of the export pipelines are directed via Russian territory. Such situation benefits Moscow by giving it political tools for strengthening its position in the region. But today few export routes are not using Russian territory like the biggest export pipeline to bring oil directly from Caspian fields to European markets is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which was commissioned in 2006. BTC connects Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan and Ceyhan, a port on the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey, via Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. It is the second-longest oil pipeline in the former Soviet Union, after the Druzhba pipeline, and carries an average of 1 million barrels of oil per day.

A new phase of political developments in Caspian region started after the events of 9/11 that has changed strategic conditions at international and regional levels. In the first decades after 9/11the US appeared to have strengthenedpolitical and economic positions in Central Asia and Caspian regions, whereas Russia’s political influence has been weakened. But today US think-tank analysts believe that United States is ‘less visible’ and that its role has ‘flattened’ in the region.A report byUS National Security Strategy for Central Asia that was released in 2020 emphasizesthatUS remains committed in this energy rich strategic crossroads,not the least to provide an alternative to the influence of Russia and China.US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo categorically said that the perception of declining US interest in the region is largely psychological. Statement by the Pompeo was indeed a try to reassure its partners in the region that in times of turbulence US remains a reliable partner for the countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In 2013, the unveiling of Belt Road Initiative (BRI) by China: and to be more precise the New Eurasia Land Bridge and China Central Asia- West Asia Corridor proved to be a deep nail in the coffin of US interests in the region.  Furthermore, it appears that Russia has revised its foreign policy and seems more inclined toward supporting Azerbaijan over Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russian support to other littoral states could be a second last nail to the coffin of US interests in Caspian region.  And when US blame Pakistan for all its loss in Afghanistan, it is just about losing the strategically planned hegemony of US in Caspian region. If Pakistan in collaboration with other regional think tanks choreographed the destination of Afghanistan, then it must have proved to be the last nail? The US hue and cry makes sense.

The Caspian littoral states include the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and the Republic of Azerbaijan. All the states are interested in exploration of rich resources of the sea to export them to world market. The export of raw materials allows these countries to solve their economic problems since it is the main source of hard currency for most of them.Practically until 2018: Caspian Convention, its legal status was not uniform, and was based on the aspirations of individual states and the rules of its use were initially regulated in peace treaties. The key factor for further development in this region was to determine the legal status of the basin.

Let’s get back to APT game. Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Turkey have continuously backed each other on various international forums on national interest matters such as Kashmir, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey is interested for strengthening its positions in the Caspian region and use it as a platform for promoting their interests in other strategically important regions of the world.Pakistan envisioned long back the importance of Azerbaijan in context of Caspian Sea, therefore had a quick move in establishing diplomatic and security relations with Azerbaijan. Nine bilateral agreements of diplomatic and economic nature in 1995, finalizing defense and military agreements in 2002, special meet-up of president Musharraf’s and President Heydar Aliyev on sidelines of ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) 2003 held in Istanbul-Turkey, back and forth visits of dignitaries to Baku and Islamabad between 2003 – 2008, and participation of Pakistan in recent trilateral ‘Brotherhood’ military drill hosted by Azerbaijan are some examples of robust union between the two brotherly states.