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Pak- Iran Gas Pipeline Politics

21 March, 2013

By Faheem Belharvi


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Despite bitter opposition from the US and warnings of economic sanctions, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad on 11 March 2013 officially inaugurated construction work of a delayed $7.5 billion gas pipeline. The ceremony, which the President's office described as a 'big event', was held in the Iranian border city of Chabahar. Both Presidents were accompanied at the ground-breaking by delegations comprising ministers, top officials as well as representatives of several Arab states.

Pak Iran gas pipeline is one of the important historic deals of the world especially in Pak and Iran horizons. The project will bring economic prosperity and opens new avenues of relationship between both the countries. Basically, Pakistan is energy stricken country and its growing economy failed to generate revenue requirements. Hence, it is need and necessity of the time to import cheap energy from neighboring country Iran in order to meet energy requirements and lessen our debt burden. The pipeline project will prove to be as the permanent energy bailout package for our energy deficiency.

The other impacts of this project could be; opening up new avenues of economic prosperity, extends business, commerce and trade activities and enhancing cultural relations with a country that has contributed so much, to our history, languages, literature, art and architecture. Meanwhile, tourism and sports activities will also increase which ultimately brings both countries closer.

Although the pipeline project's formal completion date is December 2014, a detailed feasibility plan is still being worked out and the source of funding is yet unclear. In July 2011, President Ahmadinejad has offered to fund construction of the 761 kilometers inside Pakistani territory. Iran declared at the time that it had laid the pipeline on its side to within 50 kilometers of Pakistan's border. But the Iranian offer has to be taken with a good meanwhile, Iran's economic difficulties are rapidly mounting. China's largest bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, has backed out from its earlier commitment.

In June of that year, members of the opposition benches in the Balochistan Assembly exhibited unprecedented unity and passed a resolution seeking royalty

for the province in the proposed multi-billion dollar IP gas pipeline project. Further, the assembly also demanded Balochistan`s representation in the IP talks, free gas for adjacent populations, a 100 per cent job share and a major share in any royalty. It is added that, there is no constitutional or legal guarantee that royalty in any form, including security, jobs or gas, will be supplied to the people of Balochistan.

Islamabad cannot deny the fact that Balochistan represents 44 per cent of the country`s landmass and shares strategically significant coasts and border areas with the energy-rich Middle East, through Iran.

Pakistan took a firm stand on the issue. In this regard last week, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, addressing a joint press conference with her Swedish counterpart, said that Pakistan was committed to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. She also laid to rest any doubts that a Chinese bank's decision to back off from funding the project would affect plans to import gas from Iran. She said: "There are multiple sources available and this is a very viable project."

For Pakistan the IP gas pipeline project is its energy lifeline for the future as it will provide the cheapest and most suitable fuel for power generation. According to an estimate that, the gas to be supplied by Iran would help generate around 4,000MW of electricity, besides providing job opportunities in the backward areas of Baluchistan and Sindh.

Anyhow, US factor again mounted pressure on Islamabad to forego with the project, otherwise sanctions could be imposed on Pakistan. In this connection, Hillary Clinton said that the Turkmenistan pipeline was a better alternative, predictable and would avoid business with Iran and added that embarking on the construction of a Pak-Iran pipeline is in violation of the Iran Sanctions Act. She said, "We all know what the consequences of that law are." Else the U.S shall isolate itself away from a goal that is truly important, the fight against global terrorism.

On March 7, another US Department's spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, spoke on the subject and said: "The proposed deal will violate UN sanctions laws." She acknowledged that Pakistan has a lot of unmet energy requirements. The US, she added, was aware of these requirements and has been "working in close partnership to find better ways" to meet these needs.

But Pakistan totally rejected American stance since Iran-Pakistan pipeline project is vital to her flourishing economic and meeting future energy requirement.

Another factor which need serious attention that fast friend of Pakistan "Saudi Arabia" is not very pleased over the Pak-Iran project. The Saudi attempt to create divisions and distrust with a neighboring country is plainly insidious and deserved a response from Pakistan's leaders — one no less firm than the one delivered to the Americans. The Saudi plan is just as unworkable as the TAPI pipeline, which the US is pushing as an alternative to the IP pipeline. TAPI would run through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. But with Afghanistan likely to be embroiled indefinitely in civil war after 2014, only a wild idealist can believe that a pipeline traversing its hostile and intractable terrain could provide secure oil supplies.

Let us hope the next elected national government would have to complete this Peace Pipeline Project with vision, will and capability to make up for the last decades and move fast to lift the society and the state to higher levels and scrupulously work for the development of the country development and welfare of the people. Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline can prove to be the starting point of a new era of peace and prosperity for the entire region. US and others opposing western countries should stop playing power politics with the developing and under developing countries in the name of nuclear proliferation . They should not forget US-India nuclear deal before yelling against Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project.

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