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Pakistan unlocks cross-border telecoms. India is next.

Pakistan has officially allowed private carriers to terrestrially plug the country with all the four neighbors including India. This multidimensional landmark decision makes Pakistan the buckle of South Asia-Central Asia telecoms belt. This route is embedded in our proposed trans-Asian connectivity for affordable broadband. It took us three years to convince ESCAP, which dubs our concept “Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway.”

Pakistan currently exports internet bandwidth to Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It also has an optical fiber link with Iran, which is yet to be operational. Islamabad’s green signal now enables Pakistani carriers to use Iran’s EPEG network. Consequently, Pakistan’s Europe-bound traffic will bypass the Egyptian undersea chokepoint at Suez Canal.

The Pakistan government has reformed cross-border telecoms policy two days ahead of another historic event. The construction of 1,800-kilometers Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline gets inaugurated on December 13, 2015. Turkmenistan will pump natural gas to energy-deficient Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. India will pay $200-250 million in transit fees to Pakistan for over 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas that it will receive while Pakistan will pay the same amount as transit fees to Afghanistan. The TAPI gas pipeline would be operational by 2018.

It is more than just a gas pipeline. Landlocked Afghanistan, linchpin of this energy link, needs access to competitive wholesale internet bandwidth and so does Turkmenistan. Pakistan and India, enriched with plentiful of resilient international bandwidth, can serve Afghanistan and Turkmenistan through the optical fiber that runs along TAPI pipeline.

This is how the supplier (Turkmenistan), the first transit provider-cum-buyer (Afghanistan), the second transit provider-cum-buyer (Pakistan) and the final buyer (India) of gas though TAPI pipeline can supplement each other with surplus resources that are highly critical to national prosperity.

Economic wisdom of Pakistan and India has triumphed over political acrimony in TAPI. Both the countries can now make history by reciprocating with competitive international telecommunication corridors to the landlocked Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. It will dramatically change the landscape of broadband supply chain in South Asia and Central Asia.

Same principle applies for CASA-1000, a multi-country power transmission initiative. It links Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. A 24 strands of single-mode fiber, of which 100Mbps is for grid operations, could link Bishkek with Persian Gulf submarine connectivity at only 40 milliseconds of latency, said Jim Cowie of Dyn. Pakistan should provide the Indian carriers access to this optical fiber of CASA-1000 for enhanced route-diversity of Bishkek-bound bandwidth.

Meanwhile in the eastern front, India should provide telecoms transit to Nepal and Bhutan for accessing the submarine cable systems of Bangladesh. Both the landlocked Himalayan countries exclusively depend on the Indian carriers. In fact, Nepal could be India’s most suitable terrestrial gateway to Europe via China. I have elaborated it before the Nepalese audience in March.

Internet knows no bound and it may take surprising routes. That’s why, unsurprisingly, Bangladesh helps the building of India’s third international telecoms gateway at Agartala. Bangladesh should connect more Northeastern Indian states once it plugs the second submarine cable (SEA-ME-WE 5) in 2016. That will lift Northeast India’s internet profile at par with the country’s digitally prosperous provinces. Everything depends on the goodwill of India.

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