Mad in its fury, the United States is going overboard to prevent all other countries from doing business with Iran.
There is hardly any question that importing gas from Iran is not only essential but a national necessity. Pakistan urgently needs natural gas and, indeed, any sort of fuel that can assist the economy and make peoples lives easier. According to the Los Angeles Times, “more than half of Pakistan’s manufacturers use natural gas to power their factories,” and 21 percent of Pakistani vehicles run on compressed natural gas but “Pakistan produces only 30% of the natural gas it needs.” The Iran-pakistan pipeline would provide the country with over 750 million cubic feet of gas per day.
In February it was reported that water levels in Pakistan’s main power-generating dams were dangerously low, thus affecting electric supply. Shortage of natural gas further compounded the problem, leading to prolonged power cuts all over the country that often led to public protests. Owing to a shortage of fuel for power stations and industrial plants, the country’s entire economy is under threat.
The original idea was to lay a gas pipeline from Iran to India across Pakistan -- IPI pipeline. But America bought India off with the offer of civil nuclear technology cooperation under the 123 Agreement. With India out of the loop, what remains now is the Iran-pakistan (IP) project, which is turning the American stomach to an extent that everybody, from US Ambassador Munter to State Secretary Hillary Clinton are writhing with gripes and making unpleasant sounds. The focus of pressure is on Pakistan to ditch the deal with Iran.
The tactics Washington is using to dissuade Pakistan from its purpose range from ridiculous arguments and alternative offers to outright threats of sanctions. Some of the remarks appear totally idiotic, such as the US “oracle” in Islamabad, Cameron Munter, calling the IP pipeline a “bad idea.” But he did not elaborate, because oracles don’t.
This was an example of crass chutzpah, because the worthy did not pause to ponder why the US should determine what is good and what is bad for Pakistan, unless it treats Pakistan as a vassal. And yet they are never tired of repeating that America “respects” Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Yet, another pronouncement, this time from state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, was not only funnier but also preposterous.
She had the temerity to say that Iran was an “unreliable partner,” even though America never had any experience of partnership with the revolutionary government of Iran. On the contrary it was the US that proved to be Iran’s “unreliable partner,” because it refused to allow the Shah of Iran to be buried on its soil even though he was America’s faithful stooge.
Besides, in Pakistan’s experience it has been America that has proved to be an utterly selfish and thoroughly unreliable partner, of which there are examples galore. Iran, on the contrary, has never acted perfidiously with Pakistan.
US Secretary of State, Clinton has made it clear that Pakistan will be punished if it continues to engage
with Iran and begin a construction of a natural gas pipeline. At a hearing with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations she threatened sanctions if Pakistan embarks upon “the construction of such a pipeline either as an Iranian project or as a joint project” which “would be particularly damaging to Pakistan because their economy is already quite shaky.”
She further said “the US is working to find alternative solutions to the deficit that do not necessitate the building of the proposed pipeline.” That alternative solution involves a pipeline from Turkmenistan running through Afghanistan. “We think that that is a better alternative, both in terms of predictability and to avoid doing business with Iran,” she said.
But Washington ignores that gas obtained through the IP pipeline will be very economical, besides it is also the most viable source of energy because it could be commissioned within a short period of time. On the other hand the Turkmenistan-afghan- istan-pakistan-india (TAPI) pipeline could take at least six years to complete but Pakistan’s energy needs are critical and immediate.
Moreover, whereas the IP pipeline will directly pass between Iran and Pakistan the TAPI will have to pass though Afghanistan for which Pakistan will have to pay some royalty, making it costlier. It will also give Afghanistan a powerful leverage over Pakistan, to counterbalance what the latter enjoys over the former now, for the transit facility for Afghan imports through Karachi.
It was in this context, as well as to emphasize Pakistan’s capability to take decisions, that President Zardari said in his speech at Ghari Khuda Baksh in January that to meet its energy needs Pakistan would take an independent decision. It would not take any pressure from anywhere.
Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister, Dr Asim Hussain also informed the National Assembly that a tender had already been floated for laying the pipeline for the project and that the IP gas pipeline “would be commissioned ahead of its schedule, - by the end of 2012.” He also said that the installation of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals would start after the approval of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC).
Even the recent decision of the Chinese bank to retreat from financing the IP project under pressure from the United States has not shaken Islamabad’s resolve to import gas from Iran. Foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters that “There are multiple sources available and this is fairly a very viable project.”
One such source is Russia. It has offered to fully finance the pipeline if its energy giant Gazprom is awarded the contract without bidding. However, the demand being prima facie and unethical could be negotiated when the two sides sit down to business.
With geopolitics flaring up, Iran has also offered $250 million for constructing the pipeline.
If Pakistan persists in the IP project it may have to face U.S. sanctions. But this will not be the first time. The country has faced sanctions in the past under the Pressler Amendment but it has survived. Moreover, this time due to America’s war in Afghanistan, Pakistan is in a position to adopt reciprocal countermeasures if sanctions are slapped.
What remains to be seen is how far Islamabad would resist US pressure, because despite posturing, appeasement remains the cornerstone of its policy, as has been observed with regard to the resumption of NATO supplies.