May 11, 2010

Pakistan & China, BFF

In honor of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington this week, we will be focusing the blog on Afghanistan and Pakistan (given the consensus that the later is critical to our goals in the former). Focus on our pet issues in these countries usually begins and ends with the energy needs of U.S./ISAF personnel and the pernicious fuel and water logistics problems. Me and the other bloggers will be highlighting a broader range of natural security issues in these neighboring countries for you, with the hope of adding to your knowledge of how resources play into the U.S. security interests at stake there.

Today, I’m beginning in Pakistan.

By now you all know that China is going to supply two new nuclear reactors to Pakistan. FT and other sources are reporting that they will be 650-megawatt reactors, a major increase from the 300-megawatt reactors China previously built at Pakistan’s Chashma site, where the new reactors are to be located.

Details on the reactor designs are yet to be revealed, but I’d assume they will also be pressurized water reactors, which will of course use a fair bit of water from the Indus River, on which they will sit. And Pakistan is the most water-starved country per capita in its region. Which all makes me hope that several factors play out in favor of the continued operation over the expected 40-year life of these plants once they are on line:

  • The Himalayan glaciers cease or slow their decline, so that their waters actually keep flowing for decades to come. Based on observations to date, this may be too much to hope for.
  • India does not continue to dam the Indus at a higher rate than what both countries agree to. As the NYT Green blog reported yesterday, droughts have brought major declines in hydroelectric power generation in China, and India may experience the same and react by trying to keep more water for its own purposes.
  • Pakistan can improve its electricity transmission capabilities, which are notoriously bad – the power from these reactors needs to actually be of use to the Pakistani people, or else we’re all putting water resource, nuclear safety and nonproliferation hopes on the line for nothing.

China is also lending a helping hand with Pakistan’s water problems, as the two countries signed MOUs last year for China to assist Pakistan in improving its very poor irrigation systems, which use up to 90% of that country’s fresh water. Other bilateral agreements extend to mining and other types of energy cooperation.

Where does this leave the United States, which intends to spend $7.5 billion on aid to Pakistan, about 40% of which will be dedicated to energy and agriculture projects? According to today’s Politico, USAID is trying to change how it approaches aid work, broadly but also specifically in relations with Pakistan, which the article reports gets back to China:

The change almost reflects a bit of China envy: Beijing’s impact is easily visible today in Pakistan’s public works. “Pakistanis asked us, ‘What was the last thing you actually built? We know what China does, but people don’t know where your money goes,’” said Vali Nasr, an adviser to Holbrooke. Lew credits Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, appointed chief of Pakistan’s Finance Ministry in March, for adapting quickly and coming back with a defined set of priorities, beginning with energy and food security.

These energy and food security needs will only be met by incorporating water concerns into the picture, which I hope is happening behind the scenes with both the United States and China in their explorations of how to best assist Pakistan.