Could outrage about the electricity line bring down the country's government?by Emily Winterbotham / May 20, 2016 / Leave a comment
Kabul was brought to a standstill this week as Afghan protestors called for a “city closure” on 16th May, prompting the government to block off many streets. This is the latest in a spate of protests opposing a decision to reroute an electricity transmission line covering Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan (TUTAP).
The 500 kv transmission line is being routed away from the Hazara-majority Bamiyan Province in central Afghanistan over the Salang Pass (a mountain pass connecting northern Afghanistan with Parwan Province, which lies next door to Kabul on its North Eastern border with connections to Kabul Province and southern Afghanistan). Over the past few weeks, demonstrations have been seen in Bamiyan, Mazar-e Sharif, Ghazni, Daikundi, Baghlan and Herat as well as in a number of western capitals, including Washington, Stockholm, Berlin, Tokyo and London. (For information on the demonstrations see Thomas Ruttig’s comprehensive report for AAN).
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) project is aimed at promoting trade in electricity between energy-rich Central Asian countries, and Afghanistan and Pakistan that face severe electric power deficits. Afghanistan ranks among the five per cent of countries with the lowest per capita energy consumption in the world, and is still a net energy importer. This, as the ADB states, creates disparities in economic development; and fuels ethnic and regional tensions, insecurity, and discontent. The government finally opted to route the line over the Salang pass, rather than through Bamiyan Province, in a Cabinet decision on 30th April.
This has sparked huge condemnation among Afghanistan’s Hazara population. Tensions over the project started gathering momentum in January 2016 as Hazara leaders in the government started trying to ensure the line would be routed through Bamiyan. Once news of the Cabinet’s decision reached the public, it triggered a broad political and social protest movement, known as the Jombesh-e Roshnayi (Enlightening Movement).
The opposition rests on two key arguments: firstly, that Bamiyan is a better option technically. Those who argue this point to a recommendation by the German Fichtener Engineering Company, which…