IP gas pipeline and the US

Pakistan must realize now that it should reform its foreign policy by showing less dependence on the West. There must be a shift in our foreign policy towards the eastern blocs, which are emerging as potential economic alliances. Pakistan has many options of alignment available to it and being a sovereign state, it has a fundamental right to serve its national interests than foreign pragmatisms. Therefore, no country has the right to interfere into Pakistan’s internal affairs that are in the interests of the country and could mitigate economic sufferings of its people.

Despite US opposition, the 
$ 7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline or the Peace Pipeline is going ahead as planned. The Peace Pipeline initially had three players — Pakistan, Iran, and India — but the latter decided to part from the project in 2009 to avail the US nuclear deal. The Peace Pipeline will help Pakistan end its growing energy crisis that has put its economic wellbeing at stake. Pakistan’s economy is operating below par, which is affecting productivity, causing declining exports, and widening the balance of payments deficit. The Peace Pipeline is a major step forward for Pakistan at a time when its textile and fertiliser sector are showing a decline in output. With long and unexpected power outages, the industrial sector is in peril, which is why the business community has shown feelings of joy and relief over the project.

Iran will soon complete constructing its end of the pipeline; however, the construction of the 780 kilometre section of the pipeline on the Pakistani side will cost Islamabad nearly $ 1.5 billion. Washington never accepted the Peace Pipeline project and had its reservations over the initiative. Even though Pakistan will overcome its energy needs with Iran’s support, the latter’s nuclear ambition compelled the US to oppose the project.

Pakistan is eager to complete the pipeline in due time. However, the US doubts if Pakistan can finance the project. Moreover, analysts believe that the US will impose sanctions on Pakistan for defying Washington’s directives and siding with a country having a nuclear plan that worries the west. In addition, Pakistan might face US sanctions as mentioned in the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which allows the US government to ban imports from any non-American company that makes an investment of more than $ 20 million a year in the Iranian oil and natural gas sector.

Even though the Peace Pipeline is expected to provide benefits to Pakistan, it also has an underlining political motive. Analysts view that Pakistan’s ruling party will use the gas pipeline project to amass votes and create a positive public image in the upcoming elections. People are wondering why the government went ahead with the project with only a few days left remaining before the dissolution of the assemblies. Even with a political motive in place, the Peace Pipeline will benefit the state and the credit goes to the president and his team for sealing the deal. Construction on the $ 1.5 billion pipeline is scheduled to be completed by December 2014. If the project goes according to plan, Iran will supply 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day from its gas field in South Pars to Nawabshah. This will solve Pakistan’s energy crisis and revive industry that fell prey to power outages.

The US not only opposed the project but also suggested Pakistan an alternative pipeline route from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and to India. Iran andPakistan never accepted the replacement route. Furthermore, India’s presence in the project would have kept both Pakistan and India on the verge of a war-like situation, which would only destabilise the South Asian region. The Peace Pipeline will begin transporting gas to Pakistan from December 2014. However, with the project already marred with delays, the final deadline is yet to be decided.

Prior to the inauguration of the Peace Pipeline project, the US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said, “If this deal is finalised for a proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline, it would raise serious concerns under our Iran Sanctions Act. We’ve made that absolutely clear to our Pakistani counterparts.”

The US may impose sanctions on Pakistan for engaging in business-related activities with Iran. According to the Congressional Research Report, Iran is prohibited from selling technology or equipment that aids its energy sector. In addition, Iran lacks the authorisation to conduct business dealings that involve gas or fuels of any type with any country.

Even with the US closely monitoring the proceedings of the Peace Pipeline, President Asif Ali Zardari is hopeful for the many advantages the gas pipeline will bring to Pakistan and views it as a win-win project for Iran and Pakistan. Addressing the gathering at the inauguration ceremony, the president said, “The completion of the pipeline is in the interest of peace, security, and progress of the two countries. It will consolidate the economic, political and security ties of the two nations.” Pakistan’s Foreign Office is repeatedly asserting that Pakistan will not face any opposition from the US and believes that the US will show more understanding on this issue. Only time will tell if Washington comprehends the causes that led Pakistan to go ahead with the Peace Pipeline.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad views the Peace Pipeline as a symbol of resistance against western domination. In the post-9/11 era, Pakistan became a major ally of the US in curbing extremism. However, the Peace Pipeline could put Pakistan in a heap of trouble. Pakistan cannot afford any aggressive diplomacy from the US at a time when foreign aid is crucial for its survival.

By Muhammad Omar Iftikhar

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who writes frequently on regional issues with focus on South Asia (Daily Times)

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The peace pipeline

While looking at the key trade and geo-political patterns in the world, it is imperative that the Pak-Iran gas pipeline is eminently sensible, should be completed and made operational at all costs. Thus, trade between Pakistan and Iran should not be a cynical exercise mired in political opportunism but should bring the two economies and people closer.

On Monday March 11, 2013, the presidents of Pakistan and Iran Mr Asif Ali Zardari and Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. The pipeline is also, sometimes, referred to as the Peace Pipeline. The idea for such a supply channel was originally suggested by Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan in his article titled “Persian Pipeline”, which was published by the Military College of Engineering in the mid-1950s. It was conceptualised by Nobel Prize-winning Indian academic Rajendra K Pachauri and Iran’s former deputy foreign minister Ali Shams Ardekani.

In 1994, negotiations for ‘Peace Pipeline’ commenced between Iran and Pakistan. India joined the talks in 1999. Initially, the plan was dubbed as Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which was supposed to deliver Iranian gas to Pakistan and, onwards to India. However, India opted out of the project in 2009 citing dissatisfaction with the transit fee that Pakistan was demanding. There were also concerns about the security of the whole venture that traversed through hostile territory at several points. However, it is widely believed that India quit the project at the behest of the United States. Last year, a Chinese bank also abandoned the pipeline project out of fear that it might be subjected to international sanctions for dealing with Iran.

In late January, Iran and Pakistan jointly set up a company in order to build the Pakistani portion of the pipeline. Initially, the estimated time for completion of the Pakistani part was a little more than a year but according to recent Iranian media reports, it could take about two years.

The pipeline starts from Asalouyeh in Iran stretching 1,172 kilometres towards Pakistan. The 781 kms long pipeline on Pakistani side will travel through Balochistan where it will branch out towards Karachi. The main line will continue onward towards Multan and beyond. It will deliver 750 million cubic feet of gas on a daily basis. The cost of gas thus imported will be 14.53 dollars mmbtu. According to the terms of an agreement signed by Iran and Pakistan in 2010, if the latter fails to complete its side of the pipeline by 2014, it will be obligated to pay a daily penalty of a million dollars to Iran until the conduit is complete.

The Iranian side of the pipeline is almost complete. The Pakistani part of the project will cost around 1.5 billion dollars. Iran will loan one-third of this sum amounting to 500 million dollars out of which 250 million dollars will be paid directly to the construction firm responsible for laying 80 kms of pipeline inside Pakistan. The next tranche of 250 million dollars will help in laying the remaining 701 kms pipeline. This loan, alongwith a two percent interest plus LIBOR, will be repaid as a fraction of the price of gas. Pakistan will still need to raise sizeable funds in order to see the project through, a task that seems hurculean at the moment in the wake of considerably depleted foreign reserves and a hefty IMF repayment hovering over the head.

Pakistan is highly dependent on natural gas for domestic and commercial consumption as well as electricity generation. Moreover, natural gas also plays a very crucial role in transportation within the country. For years, Pakistan is desperately trying to cope with an acute energy shortage that has all but crippled the economy. Last month, the country suffered a nation-wide blackout that only served to further highlight its exponential energy woes.

The US is vehemently opposed to the project and assumes that the hasty progress of the Peace Pipeline is politically motivated since the energy issue, by all accounts, will play a pivotal role in this year’s general elections. The mandate of the present government will expire in a few days. The ruling party may be planning to use the Peace Pipeline as a gambit for securing votes since the public will perceive it as a practical step towards resolving the energy issue. Moreover, defying the US, or seeming to do so, is extremely popular in Pakistan whose overwhelming public opinion is anti-US despite being the recipient of enormous American aid.

The US has threatened Pakistan with sanctions if it builds the gas pipeline. However, it is more likely that sanctions will be imposed only after the actual delivery of gas starts. Pakistani companies buying gas from Iran may also face US restrictions. The State Department recently criticised Pakistan for wasting its limited resources on such projects. The US is concerned that the Peace Pipeline will enable Iran to evade international sanctions by selling a huge amount of its gas. This will, consequently, blunt US efforts to keep Iran under pressure over its nuclear activities.

In order to address Pakistan’s genuine energy concerns, the US has suggested the trans-Afghanistan pipeline for delivering gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan. The pipeline could be extended further to India. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which will effectively bypass Iran, has been on the tables in Washington for several years but could not materialize despite Asian Development Bank’s backing due to the fragile security situation in Afghanistan. The TAPI proposal is, however, still alive and may transpire in the next five years.

Pakistan’s current annual oil import bill exceeds 12 billion dollars. The bulk of the imported furnace oil is used for generating electricity. Importing gas from Iran may prove helpful not only in managing the severe energy crisis but also reducing Pakistan’s import bills to a reasonable extent. However, it is also important to carefully examine the diplomatic costs of carrying on with a geo-politically significant project that is not favoured by the international community.

By Atif Shamim Syed

The writer is an investment banker and a freelance columnist for various publications. He can be reached at syedatifshamim@hotmail.com

Daily Times

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How sectarian killers operate with ‘impunity’ in Pakistan

The innocent are falling daily, the mothers are crying, the children are weeping, the wives are suffering, the old are becoming older, the humanity is dying but no emergency is seen at top level except a few sympathetic words and condolence messages. People are losing faith in democracy, they question, why they are not being protected, why the terrorists are not being hanged, why this killing spree is not being stopped, why the killers of Benazir Bhutto have not been brought to book and why the attackers of Malala Yousafzai have not been arrested as yet? The answer may not be forth coming but now the people have become wiser and may not be mislead with hallow slogans. The youth which is more than 50 per cent had to play a decisive role in the forthcoming election. Instead of sitting idle and sleeping at homes, we need to come out in large number to elect the people who can really take the country out from these mounting crises. Until and unless the system of reward and punishment is not adopted till then we can’t sail smoothly.

Banned militant faction Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Ramzan Mengal is escorted as he walks to attend a protest rally

Hateful graffiti messages against Shiite Muslims are scrawled along main roads. The striped flags of a banned militant faction accused of hundreds of murders flutter from homes. These are the outskirts of Quetta in Pakistan, from where Shiite leaders say Sunni extremists towed a giant bomb by tractor to kill 90 Shiite Hazaras on February 16, after dispatching suicide bombers to kill 92 others at a snooker hall a month earlier.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group officially banned by the government in 2002, claimed responsibility for both attacks. Local Shiites say they know who the organizers are, and where they live, and yet the authorities do nothing. An AFP reporter saw no sign of police or paramilitary in Akhtarabad, the run-down neighborhood from where Shiites claim the bombers drove the giant bomb.

Nor was there a security presence in Killi Kambrani and Killi Badeni, dens of suspected kidnappers and criminals, covered in slogans for jihad and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), described as the “political wing” of LeJ. Bombers determined to exterminate Shiites have slaughtered more than 250 Pakistanis since January 10 and questions are being asked about possible political and military collusion. Pakistan has an abysmal track record of convicting extremists, and there is growing alarm about perceived apathy towards attacks on Shiites, which are similar to those that fuelled civil war in Iraq. “Akhtarabad is their hub and main hideout.

Everybody knows they come from there to attack Hazaras but nothing has been done,” said Shiite community leader Syed Mussarrat Hussein in Quetta, the capital of the troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan. Daud Agha, local president of the Shiite Conference, said tip-offs about impending attacks are ignored and the ASWJ tolerated. Amnesty International has said the failure of the authorities to bring those responsible for sectarian violence to justice “sends the signal that they can continue to commit these outrageous abuses with impunity”. So how and why does LeJ operate with such apparent freedom? There are many theories.

The worst violence is concentrated in Baluchistan, fuelling accusations that the military turns a blind eye or even encourages LeJ operatives, to distract attention from a six-year separatist insurgency. “LeJ got stronger in Baluchistan after the start of the Baluch insurgency,” says Anwar Sajidi, a Baluch rights activist and chief editor of Quetta-based newspaper Intikhab. “The government is supporting LeJ as a counter-insurgency strategy to show the world that sectarian violence is also on the rise and the Baluch separatist movement is not the only reason for killings.” LeJ, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, was created in the 1990s out of the same pool of fighters trained and nurtured by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States in the 1980s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Last month the chief military spokesman categorically denied the armed forces were in contact with militants, including the LeJ. But despite Pakistan joining the US-led “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks, the armed forces continue to be dogged by allegations of playing a double game.
LeJ founder and ASWJ vice president Malik Ishaq has been accused in more than 40 murder cases but was free until being taken into custody on February 23 for posing a risk to law and order. Others say LeJ is protected because of the electoral support it can harness in southern districts of central Punjab province, a key battleground in upcoming national elections where the Pakistan Muslim League-N is in power. “This politics of expediency may by CouponDropDown”>win the party a few more seats in the upcoming elections, but the move would provide further space to religious extremism already on the rise,” author Zahid Hussain wrote in Dawn newspaper.
There is little to distinguish the ASWJ from LeJ in public. “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was created in reaction to injustices by the government,” says Ramzan Mengal, the Baluchistan president of the ASWJ. “We can ask the LeJ men to negotiate with the government but the authorities will have to stop being influenced by Shias.” A senior police official in Quetta told AFP his force was too weak to act, because the LeJ and ASWJ had too much financial and logistical support. Until the government develops a “multi-pronged” strategy to shut down their support networks, he warned, Shiites will continue to be slaughtered.
Many people in Baluchistan say there is an international element to the violence, believing that Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are fighting a proxy war on Pakistani soil. Religious schools that have educated millions of Pakistanis in a hardline Sunni interpretation of Islam are also partly to blame. “There are hundreds of seminaries in the country who produce thousands of extremists every year,” the Quetta police official said. 

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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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Energy problem & IP gas pipeline

The stance taken by the US government vis-à-vis the project is undeniably very bold and clear. Stance of the government of Pakistan on the issue, widely projected in Pakistan’s print and electronic media lately, is equally strong and comprehensible. None less than the stature of the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari has categorically stated that no power in the world can halt the $7.5 billion project, dismissing mounting US opposition to the venture that will be formally inaugurated on March 11, 2013.

Though the ground-breaking ceremony of the Pakistan-Iran Gas Pipeline Project is about 18 years late, the national consensus is in favour of the project. The idea of the ‘Persian pipeline’ has been in circulation since the early 1950s, but the preliminary agreement was signed between Pakistan and Iran in 1995. And there onwards a criminal neglect of this crucial energy project delayed both pipeline import of gas and LNG import from Iran. Result: the country is faced with a serious energy deficiency causing economic slowdown and ‘gas riots’ by domestic consumers, who are users of this cheap source of energy.

At present almost 48 percent of the country’s energy needs are met by the indigenous natural gas resources. But years of lopsided energy policies have resulted in creating a huge demand and supply of natural gas. Pakistan’s present natural gas demand is about 7.27 bcfd, while the supply is only 4.45 bcfd, thus leaving a huge gap of around 2.8 bcfd. This gap in demand and supply is likely to further expand to around 8 bcfd by 2022, depending on the rate of GDP growth. As Pakistan has one of the largest natural gas pipeline distribution systems, there is a considerable percentage of unaccounted for gas (UFG) because of pilferage, leakages and non-payment of gas bills by the people in the remote areas.

According to the project proposal, the pipeline will begin from Iran’s Assalouyeh Energy Zone in the south and stretch over 1,100 kilometres through Iran. In Pakistan, the 785-kilometre pipeline will pass through Balochistan and Sindh, but officials now say the route may be changed if China agrees to the project. The total cost of the Pakistan section of the pipeline is $ 1.5 billion of which Iran has offered a loan of $ 500 million.

The natural question is why the project was delayed for 18 years when it was so crucial for the country. One of the major reasons for this delay was that the post-1995 governments did not want to annoy the US and Saudi governments who were against expanding relations with Iran. The project was revived in General Pervez Musharraf’s era with the assumption that the pipeline would be extended to India; it was even named by optimists as ‘the peace pipeline’. But India used it as a ploy to get a nuclear agreement with the US and backed out from the project. On the other hand, the US kept pushing Pakistan that the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline would be a better option. This project had the backing of some leading American companies too. In 1995, at the Economist Roundtable with the government of Pakistan in Islamabad, I had maintained that as Afghanistan was not going to settle, at least for the next 15 years, the Turkmenistan pipeline project would not be possible. (I had underestimated the timeframe.) My apprehensions were brushed aside by the then Interior Minister General Babar. The huge cost of indecision and delay of this project is that now it would be subjected to the UN and many bilateral economic sanctions against Iran.

The Zardari government revived the project when it became clear that shortage of gas was dragging the economy down. The political side of speeding up this project is that President Asif Zardari wants to take the credit of standing up to the US-Saudi pressure and exploit this in favour of his party, which has the image of toeing the US agenda. His critics say that he is leaving this hot potato for his successor if the PPP loses the election. The diplomatic reason is that Islamabad policymakers think as the US needs Pakistan for finding a solution to the Afghan conundrum and exit of its forces by end 2014, they will not enforce harsh sanctions on the country. On the other hand, Pakistan has managed to get a deal from Iran because they are suffering from an acute fall in revenue. Almost 70 percent of Iran’s $ 358 billion GDP is dependent on its energy exports. Because of sanctions the major importers of Iranian oil are gradually cutting down their imports from Iran. In the last couple of months Iran’s energy exports revenue has dropped by almost 42 percent. That is the reason Iran has agreed to finance the Pakistani sector of the pipeline as they know no foreign or Pakistani domestic bank will touch this project with a ten foot barge pole fearing international financial sanctions. To reassure Pakistan, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently told the visiting Pakistani delegation that the much-delayed $ 7.5 billion gas pipeline project must go ahead despite US opposition. “The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is an important example of Tehran-Islamabad cooperation, and despite hostilities towards the expansion of ties, we must overcome this opposition decisively,” Khamenei told Zardari, foreign news agencies reported. The pipeline also symbolises that Iran is not completely isolated.

Zardari is now trying to impress upon the US administration that gas is needed to overcome its energy crisis, hence they should appreciate Pakistan’s position. The new UN and bilateral sanctions against Iran broadly include: measures to impose an assets-freeze and dealings, and prohibition on 98 new entities of proliferation concern. They also prohibit the export to Iran of: different types of goods used in shipbuilding, mineral exploration, mining, metal production, and telecommunications industries; vessels designed to transport or store crude oil or its products; hard currency totalling $ 40,000 or more in value; and new goods of proliferation concern. The expanded measures also prohibit the import of natural gas, oil, and petroleum or petrochemical products from Iran; the provision of marketing and other financial or related services in respect of certain prohibited goods; the provision of flagging or classification services to Iranian oil tankers or cargo vessels; and the provision of insurance and reinsurance to Iran or any entity in Iran. It is the shipping insurance clause that is pushing traditional Iranian oil importers to back off.

A billion dollar question for Pakistan policy makers is how violation of the sanction, “the expanded measures also prohibit the import of natural gas, oil, and petroleum or petrochemical products from Iran” would be invoked against Pakistan. So far no country has been penalised for importing oil from Iran. China and India, who opposed the expansion of sanctions on Iran, continue to import Iranian oil under the exemptions that they have taken from the UN and US. However, reports are that all oil importers from Iran are gradually tapering off their imports from Iran, but the process is expected to stretch over 15-18 months. Pakistan’s agreement with Iran is to lay down the gas pipeline within 15 months, which incidentally also coincides with the timeframe of US forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan is banking on the 1980s experience when because of its strategic importance to continue insurgency in Afghanistan the US administration turned a blind eye towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Pakistan is also hoping that the recent Iran and big five negotiations in Almaty will bear some fruit and sanctions may be eased if some progress is made in further talks.

The good news is that in spite of their political differences and the coming elections where political parties are usually miserly in supporting the ruling party’s initiatives, the major political parties are supporting this project. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s star economist Asad Omar says, “Pakistan-Iran Gas pipeline is the best energy option for Pakistan.” He thinks that Pakistan should go ahead with the project in spite of opposition of the US administration as the gas import is critical for the economic growth of the country. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is also supporting the project, Zubair Omar, who is a member of Nawaz Sharif’s manifesto committee, told me on the phone. Who ever imagined that Zardari would stand up against US dictates; politics is indeed full of surprises!

By  Babar Ayaz

The writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com

Daily Times 

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Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Project: “Destroying Pakistan”

The terrorist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group was in fact created, according to the BBC, to counter Iran’s Islamic Revolution in the 1980’s, and is still active today. Considering the openly admitted US-Israeli-Saudi plot to use Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups across the Middle East to counter Iran’s influence, it begs the question whether these same interests are funding terrorism in Pakistan to not only counter Iranian-sympathetic Pakistani communities, but to undermine and destabilize Pakistan itself.

Pakistan may be facing the most decisive moment of its survival. The persecution and killing of Muslims by other Muslims on supposed religious grounds has reached horrifying levels. Terrorist and sectarian violence, targeting both the powerful and the powerless, spearheaded by groups such as the Tehrik–e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), has created havoc. Both groups are part of an even larger network that includes the Islamist sectarian militias in the country, hard-line activists in Pakistan’s mainstream Islamist political parties and organisations, and sympathisers in government institutions and across social classes. Sufi Islam has given way to Wahabi bigotry as the country has become increasingly intolerant and de-secularised, allowing obscurantism to prosper.

The culture of militancy in Pakistan largely stems from the extreme hard-line Islamic ideologies practised in Pakistan for decades, with full acceptance and participation of Pakistani civil society in general. Extremism has been boosted by the ever-present religious hysteria nurtured by the largely Punjabi feudal-military-bureaucratic oligarchy, from the country’s very inception. Punjab ‘the sword arm of Pakistan’ and ‘the bastion of Pakistan ideology’ (Stephen Cohen) has become the epicenter of regional extremism. Pakistan’s present state is a warning and example for any nation that fails in the separation of religion and state. Throw intolerant Islam into the mix, and you have a sociological challenge: illiterate masses, like putty in the hands of mullahs, being used by a military to justify its primacy.

For Islamists or fundamentalists, the failures and shortcomings that afflict the Pakistani state and society is due to imported secular notions and practices. They regularly trumpet that Pakistan has fallen away from the authentic Islam and thus lost its direction. Their aim is to create a uniquely repressive society where regular citizens have few rights, speech and thoughts is restricted by both government and the Sunni Deobandi religious order, and repression against women. The views of the few modernists or reformers in society, who see the inflexibility and ubiquity of the Islamic clergy, as the main cause of the country’s backwardness, are easily drowned out.

What has also not helped is the country’s dismal record in three main areas: military, economic, and political, which has been, to say the least, disappointing. The quest for victory by the military has brought a series of humiliating defeats. The quest for prosperity through development brought in an impoverished and corrupt economy in recurring need of external aid. For the mostly oppressive but ineffectual governments and dictatorships that have ruled Pakistan, finding targets to blame serves a useful, indeed an essential, purpose, to explain the poverty that they have failed to alleviate and to justify the tyranny that they have introduced. They have chosen to deflect the mounting anger of the unhappy populace toward other, outside targets such as the country being a victim of the regional-global power politics since its creation.

If Pakistan continues on its present suicidal path, there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in the country’s disintegration. But even today, despite the murder and mayhem, not all in Pakistan seem convinced that confronting the jihadist movement is an urgent need for Pakistan’s survival as a democratic country. For some hard-line nationalists, and even some progressives defying the US imperialist agenda in the region takes precedence, and the external pressure to defeat the Islamists is to be resisted. Among the more pragmatic, the view is that Pakistan should accommodate the world, but without directly confronting the jihadist groups. It seems as if society is fine being permanently hijacked by forces of obscurantism.

It will be very difficult if not impossible to reverse the national downslide that Pakistan seems to have chosen for itself. To truly confront the extremist threat, the first challenge is for Pakistanis to agree that they want to live in a modern, democratic and plural society. To achieve this goal, the jihadi movement will have to be faced and overcome, by overwhelming force if necessary. It will also require a carefully planned and methodically executed programme of reform aimed at removing the root causes of the proliferation of violence in society, and improvement in the investigative, preventive, and prosecution capabilities of security and intelligence agencies, and the administration of justice. 

In addition, the state will have to re-tool its policies towards representing all the people who live in the country, and, not identify itself with any particular section of the population. Finally, the democratic political process has acted as a bulwark against the spread of militant fundamentalism among the populace, despite their increasing alienation from state system. The populace must be encouraged to articulate their demands through the major mainstream political parties. Put simply, to effectively meet the Islamist challenge, the Pakistani state and society must finally accept and fully exercise its responsibility to maintain peace, provide justice, foster democracy and participation, and make available in an equitable manner the resources necessary for economic and social development. Pakistan’s neighbours and the world will need to help.

 By Saad Hafiz

The writer can be reached at shgcci@gmail.com

Daily Times

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Iran-Pakistan pipeline

It is quite understandable that Mr Zardari felt the project to be of great benefit to Pakistan; for the Iranian gas would go a long way towards meeting the energy requirements of Pakistan where the people have to go through a trying experience of loadshedding lasting for hours on end every day. Mr Zardari was also received by Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who stressed that the project must go ahead despite the US opposition.

Taking her usual pro-America line, in her latest article ‘Not a perfect world’ published in a daily, the writer airs her depressing views about Iran-Pakistan pipeline, saying it is in the headlines again, but for the wrong reasons, and wrong reason, according to her, is that the United States and its pack of hunting dogs, the western countries, are after Iran.

In her self-assured manner, she declares signing of the agreement a political gimmick by the Peoples Party, just to gain some extra votes which the defiance of the United States in the prevailing anti-America public mood will bring. However, further down in her article, she says “The pipeline could also help Pakistan pursue an independent foreign policy, rather than base all decisions around the contours of its relationships with China and the US. The ability to prioritize domestic concerns is a strong sign of political maturity and stability.”

She agrees that the construction of pipeline could generate some employment in Balochistan while it could also help us generate another 4,000 mw of power the absence of which is increasing unemployment. She also declares that IP pipeline is more feasible than the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, and later says “the IP pipeline seems unfeasible for the same reasons as Tapi.” I think she should make up her mind as to what she wants to say instead of just contradicting herself, and confusing the readers as to what message she wants to convey.

Her statement “Western opinion is turning against sanctioning rogue nations” while indicating an opposition to sanctions in the West, is highly objectionable as it implies that the nations subject to sanctions now or before are rogues while the Western nations are all angels. She seems to have completely forgotten imperial history of the Western nations, what Western invaders did to the indigenous population of United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, in short wherever they set their foot. Even in recent times, their conduct in Vietnam and Iraq is right before us, qualifies them as nothing but thugs, scoundrels and murderers of the worst kind. As a matter of fact, two of the oldest disputes, Kashmir and Palestine, which have remained unsolved for more than half a century, and which are responsible for major terrorist activity around the world, including 9/11, are creations of these Western angels. It was Britain that gave the Muslim-majority areas with access to Kashmir to India and established Israel as a thorn in the flesh of Palestinians.

It is also the unqualified support of US and the West that has made Israel the monster it has become which continues treating Palestinians with contempt, subjecting them to ridicule, humiliation and worst forms of human rights violations in their own land illegally occupied by Israel. On the basis of their conduct, these Western nations hardly qualify for the high regard in which she seems to hold them.
Her opposition to Iran-Pakistan pipeline is mainly due to the threat of sanctions but she herself admits that opinion in the West is turning against sanctions because it creates ill-feelings against them. We also know that the US has given exemption to some countries from sanctions and since the US and NATO countries need economical, short supply route through Pakistan for getting most of their supplies in Afghanistan and they will need this just as much while evacuating from there, Pakistan is in a strong position. She could also have suggested that if Pakistan stood firm, there is every possibility that the US would give Pakistan a waiver. However, she feels more comfortable pleading Americans’ case with us, as well as trying to frighten us of disastrous consequences that could follow through defying the US.

The writer says “Finally, Pakistan can’t be sure that the US won’t impose tough sanctions, which could lead to a reorientation of US-Pakistan relations from engagement to isolation, with Washington simultaneously taking a zero-tolerance stance against Pakistani militancy. In response, Pakistan would likely take on a spoiler role in Afghanistan. Such policy shifts would undermine regional stability and forever snuff out the possibility of Islamabad and Washington having anything more than a transactional relationship.

She forgets that our relations with the US have always been nothing but transactional and most of the time, the US ditched us at times of our extreme need, and the pattern is likely to continue, rather get worse in future. In the present round, Americans apologized for their conduct earlier and promised to be different this time but actually proved worse than before. The Abbottabad raid and the killings at Salala post, with refusal even to offer a proper apology hardly show an inclination to ‘engage.’

This time, the whole western gang came up with a promise to help us. The ‘friends of democratic Pakistan forum was launched with great fanfare but fizzled out and we do not even hear of it any more. It was the same with the US. During meetings with the US, various sub-committees were formed to provide us specialist help in various fields, but the committees never progressed beyond promises and in due course, died their natural death. 

Even the project ‘reconstruction opportunity zones’ which was supposed to provide $ 150 million a year for five years for development in FATA was cancelled. Abandoning us, the US is busy courting India which it wants to prop up as a leader in the region, and as a US partner in its ultimate war with China.

This naturally puts us in the enemy camp, based on America’s ‘with us, or against us’ policy. I am rather surprised that despite America’s past and present conduct with us, anyone could even dream that we could have anything but purely transactional relationship with the US: a transaction in which we are sure to end up as overall losers. The $ 70 billion loss which we have incurred due to our association with the US war on terror is far greater than the total aid we received from the US from 1947 up till now and the nearly 40,000 soldiers and civilians killed come on top of that.

Declaring Pakistan’s recent strong moves on the Pipeline project as election stunt, she says “The problem with pre-election stunts is that they are often shelved the moment elections are successfully contested. And that is especially true in this case since Pakistan can’t afford to build the pipeline. Sadly, this counterproductive stunt will distract from more viable domestic measures to address the energy crisis, including reducing energy theft, improving infrastructure to prevent inefficiencies and developing Pakistan’s local gas fields.”

She has completely ignored the strong possibility that the badly-bruised Peoples Party, which could not manage to get simple majority while it had the benefit of ‘sympathy’ votes is unlikely to fare any better due to its worst performance during the last five years. Moreover, some other parties, which boycotted elections last time, like Jamaat-e-Islami and a much strengthened Tehreek-e-Insaf are also in the field now, while MQM is also planning to field its candidates throughout Pakistan. Dr. Tahirul Qadri is also expected to announce participation in the general election by his Pakistan Awami Tehreek, about which he has promised to make a definitive statement in his address in Rawalpindi on March 17. So, even if announced as an election gimmick, Pakistan Iran pipeline project is likely to be pursued vigorously by other parties which are likely to form the next government.

Our partnership with Iran could also speed up additional projects like 1,000 mw Taftan-Quetta transmission line, 400 mw Gawadar power supply project, Noshki-Dalbandin highway and up-gradation of Quetta-Taftan track in addition to establishment of a refinery in Gwadar.

Also, going for the IP pipeline and pursuing other ‘ viable domestic measures’ suggested by the writer are not mutually exclusive options act both have to be pursued to meet the ever-increasing energy needs.

As for the unrest in Balochistan, it is a threat not only to IP pipeline, but also to continued existence of Pakistan as a viable state and has got to be dealt with in a coordinated manner along with law and order problem elsewhere in the country. With Chinese coming to Gwadar, more employment opportunities will be created in the province, and the two countries together will bring the Balochistan situation under control, and soon: this has got to be done, and will be done. With so many new, enthusiastic entrants in the political field now, things can not remain the same like they they did in the past.

By S.R.H. Hashmi

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