Pipe­line Pol­i­tics

Mad in its fury, the United States is go­ing over­board to pre­vent all other coun­tries from do­ing busi­ness with Iran.

Southasia - - Front page - By S.G. Ji­la­nee S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of Southa­sia Mag­a­zine.

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.

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