US frustrated by Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

Though Pakistan has been accounted a US ally in its war on terror, and has provided it ‘unstinted support’, it has its own compulsions which oblige it to ignore US objections. There has been the investment of time: it has been 19 years since the project was first broached, and 18 since the preliminary agreement between the two countries signed. In contrast, India was only included in the project in 2005, and promptly withdrew in 2009.

The ‘peace pipeline’, so named to denote the benefits of the gas project for Iran, Pakistan and the region, has finally seen a beginning on the Pakistan side. This pipeline, as stated by President Asif Ali Zardari and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the ground breaking ceremony at Gabd near the Iran-Pakistan border is indispensible to eradicate Pakistan’s energy deficit. Though India, by CouponDropDown”>one of the original three partners of the pipeline, has backed out of the project to gain other benefits from the US (the nuclear power cooperation agreement), the pipeline still holds promises benefits for the remaining two partners, Pakistan and Iran, with China a potential third in times to come. Pakistan has been in dire need of expanding its energy resources. The indigenous gas reservoirs have depleted over the years given our mismanagement and unplanned consumption without future considerations. The economy of the country is functioning below capacity. Industries are closing down because of insufficient and interrupted energy supply. The hardest hit sectors have been textiles and fertilizer. These sectors being the backbone of our economy, one could imagine the productive loss Pakistan had experienced because of the troubles of these industries. It is because of this that the business community has shown jubilation over the implementation of the project. They are eying a 50 percent increase in production once the gas is available to industry. For domestic cosumers too it would be a sigh of relief eventually, since the capacity of the gas received from Iran will produce 5,000 MW electricity, reducing the energy shortfall
tremendously, which has been a cause of incessant crises and disruption in daily life. The gas pipeline groundbreaking ceremony in short, has given Pakistan some reasons for optimism. 

The project however is still not devoid of uncertainties. The effort that has already taken 18 years to come this far still faces certain political and security issues which, if not handled with upfront urgency, could throw a spanner in the works. Two such security issues are the nationalist insurgency and the terrorist activities of groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Balochistan. The nationalists have expressed their reservations over the gas pipeline, terming it against the interests of the Baloch people. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s unconcealed hatred toward Shias could drive them to sabotage the pipeline that would pass through Balochistan along its route to Gwadar and on to Nawabshah in Sindh. As far as the nationalists are concerned, a political solution is the only way to address their feelings of alienation. The terrorists, unfortunately, require to be combated. The sooner the government corners them the better. There is also a serious need of overhauling the system for transmission losses, poor dues collection, leakages, pillage, and substitution of furnace oil for power generation. Finally, the ability, especially of the new government in power after the elections in May, to complete the project, in spite of opposition from the US, is critical for the success of the pipeline. Steadfastness is the key.

Just as Pakistan has followed its national interest in spite of growing US and UN sanction threats, it ability to see the pipeline project completed will depend largely on the same spirit. US proposals on energy projects to tide over Pakistan’s energy needs have been insufficient and lacked clarity in terms of tangible projects. Even otherwise, the energy requirement Pakistan faces is much greater and urgent. The US proposed projects so far extended fall short of both these requirements. However, there are many cases where sanctions have not been applied by the US that provide room for waiver Pakistan could get on transporting gas from Iran. 

The future of Pakistan largely depends on its ability to revitalize its economy. Dampened by innumerable burdens, the major being terrorism, the country could slide into irretrievable danger if the people of the country are not given the necessary means to live a decent life. Since 1994, the project has suffered innumerable delays on a number of occasions. Finance proved difficult to raise. Now that Iran and Pakistan along with China have agreed to push the project ahead, it should not become a victim of the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme, particularly, as is hoped, that problem can yield a solution through international diplomacy. 

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