To generate jobs and security, Afghanistan must generate power

To generate jobs and security, Afghanistan must generate power
© Getty Images

Late last year, just after the Trump administration announced the new South Asia strategy, the government of Afghanistan teamed up with the global technology and engineering giant, Siemens, based out of Houston, and Bayat Power, an Afghan-owned power company, to launch a $250 million gas-to-power project that will provide more than 200 megawatts of electricity within Afghanistan.

That’s enough electricity to meet the needs of nearly 1 million Afghan homes and businesses and help create jobs for Afghans in agricultural, mining and manufacturing. It will also provide thousands of jobs for Texans in the Houston area.

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The project symbolizes the new direction and focus of the Afghan-American partnership — one that brings us together not only around the challenges of security and the threat of global terrorism, but also one that brings us together around the vast potential for public-private sector ventures that benefit both countries.

 

In 2018, our partnership will be defined also by opportunities, not just by challenges, particularly in the energy sector.

Energy is the foundation of infrastructure; to generate employment opportunities and development, and in turn, security, Afghanistan must first generate power.

This year, we are exploring a number of other ventures — working with the West Virginian coal industry to explore how to exploit Afghanistan’s vast coal reserves, which are some of the highest quality in the world.

We are also partnering with General Electric and 77 Construction USA Corporation to complete one of the largest hydroelectric power dams in Afghanistan, the Kajaki dam.

Last week in Kabul, the Afghan government signed an agreement with General Electric and 77 Construction USA Corporation to increase the capacity of the Kajaki dam to power 40,000 homes, 3,000 small businesses and 200 large businesses across Helmand and Kandahar provinces, which have seen some of the most violence over the past decades.

The project will increase the dam’s capacity from 50 megawatts to 150 megawatts by adding three more turbines.

The Kajaki dam was originally built by an American firm with American funding in the 1950s but fell into disrepair during the Soviet occupation and subsequent conflict. Diesel-generated fuel costs skyrocketed, costing about 40 to 50 cents per kilowatt hour.

American companies are now investing $200 million in the project and will then sell the power back to the Afghan government for about 6 cents per kilowatt hour.

For the first time, this new public-private partnership investment model will allow all parties to benefit — U.S. investors and businesses, the Afghan government and the Afghan citizens who will gain electricity and irrigation for their homes and businesses.

Developing the energy sector, particularly the national grid, via public-private partnerships is a government priority for 2018. The goal is to improve and expand energy sources internally so that it may feed the industrial development needed to boost the economy and thus create jobs.

The progress being made represents not only a dramatic shift in policy by the Afghan government since 2015 but also its commitment to delivering: The amount of new energy being generated by the country over the past three years surpasses the amount produced over the past 40 years combined. 

One example is the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, which reached the Afghan border at Herat earlier this month in a celebration attended by the president of Afghanistan, the president of Turkmenistan, the prime minister of Pakistan and India's minister for external affairs.

The TAPI project will not only provide a transit for natural gas from energy-rich Central Asia through Afghanistan to supply the energy needs of South Asia, but it also opens up a new economic corridor between the regions, which will also include fiberoptic and railway.

The pipeline had almost dissolved into myth after being initiated nearly 25 years ago but was successfully resurrected over the past three years. Multiple other critical infrastructure and regional connectivity projects have been completed or are underway, once again placing Afghanistan at the center of the regional exchange of goods, services and energy.

Though potential is vast, we balance progress with overcoming the challenges that we also face daily: ongoing efforts to clean house and cut corruption, fighting a war against terrorism, delivering services to our people and preparing for elections.

But nurturing private-sector investment in order to develop the energy sector and grow the economy must happen hand-in-hand with confronting our challenges.

Over the past few years, the Afghan government and private sector, along with the U.S. government and private sector have explored and solidified partnerships that will allow us to do just that, for the benefit of both country’s prosperity and security.

Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi, Ph.D. is the chief infrastructure and technology advisor of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. He previously served at the president of San Jose State University.