A geological survey suggests that Balochistan
province has a rich energy potential as Arab peninsula and North Sea.
This potential nevertheless remained untapped for unexplained reasons.
Being strategically located, this province offered second attraction
as a pass for regional gas pipelines but a series of violent attacks
on the energy infrastructure in Pakistan's strategic southwest could
have a major backlash on various multi-billion-gas pipeline projects.
Pakistan sent more than 1,000 troops to the
country's largest gasfield in poverty-stricken Balochistan province
and closed the main plant there after a series of clashes with
tribesmen left eight people dead. Violence erupted at the state-run
Sui gas facility, which the tribesmen — who have long campaigned for
more royalties and jobs from the plant — said followed the alleged
gang rape of a woman doctor. "This is something of concern to
everybody," Asian Development Bank (ADB) country chief Marshuk
Ali Shah said, as the tribe's chieftain predicted a major military
The resource-rich province is a potential staging
point for a number of gas pipeline projects, which have been proposed
to satisfy the demands of energy-hungry South Asia.
One would carry gas from Iran to India while
another parallel proposal would go from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan
to Pakistan and then possibly to India again. But dissatisfaction is
ripening among ethnic Baloch tribes, who blame Islamabad of purposely
depriving them of the economic benefits from the natural gas and
political rights they say they are guaranteed by the constitution.
After discovery of the largest-ever gas reservoir
in 1950s, which prompted the authorities to plan and lay one of the
largest gas transmission and distribution network in Balochistan
province, the home of very gas deposits remained the least beneficiary
of all. Hostilities among the tribal, hydrocarbon exploration
companies as well as the central government were looming large ever
since the realization of deprivation strongly gripped the locals.
MANY INTRIGUING FACTS REMAIN UNANSWERED
A top US diplomat told an energy conference in
Quetta that Balochistan province carries unproven gas reservoir of 200
trillion cubic feet of gas. How big these reserves are could be gauged
with its simple comparison with Sui reserves, which estimated gas
amounts at 8.9 trillion cubic feet and still did not last, despite
ruthless consumption for past 40 years.
Tribal chieftains may have their writ in the vast
stretches and plateaus of the province. But should not the government
have strongest writ in the province, the case has been otherwise. It
is on record that the governments in the past had approved payment of
ransom to the tribal and at a stage it was planning to
institutionalize ransom so that it could be kept on financial books.
Why the difficult gas pipeline projects attracted
Pakistani planners instead of taping the local energy potential which
would have entailed development squarely. But the procrastination on
the part of authorities not only left a huge potential of energy
resources undiscovered but making the chances of mega gas pipeline
Now low-level uprising has been brewing for years
in the region with similar attacks. "These projects are of no
good for us, they are only a source of earning money (for Islamabad)
by selling gas to India," said influential Sardar Akbar Bugti.
Energy industry representatives say that Pakistan
will suffer if it cannot show that it is capable of policing its own
power and natural resources infrastructure.
"This is very bad. It is not in the interests
of Pakistan and would have very bad impacts on foreign
investment," said Pakistan Exploration and Production Companies
Association spokesman Jameel Hasan.
Of the association's 22 members, 16 are foreign
hydrocarbon companies working in Pakistan's energy sector. The
proposed projects are aimed at making up an imminent domestic natural
gas shortfall, as well as supplying the future needs of Pakistan's
political rival India, which is one of the largest consumers in Asia.
Pakistan's shortfall by 2010 is estimated at 0.2
billion cubic feet per day, going up to 1.4 billion by 2015 and 2.7
billion by 2020. India would face a deficit of 140 billion cubic
meters of gas in the year 2020, which accounts for 13 percent of its
energy needs, energy sector data shows.
But the tribal rebels claim they can scupper the
projects if their demands are not met. "These projects can not be
built without our goodwill and approval," Bugti said, expressing
anger at the deployment of thousands of troops along with gunship
helicopters in his territory.
TRIBAL THREATS HAUNT THE INDUSTRY
"This kind of statement would make any
investor think twice before coming Pakistan," Jameel Hasan said,
adding: "Foreign investors would shy away."
Project sponsors could propose changes in the
routes of the pipeline but higher security measures would also be
required. "Watertight security is needed for the proposed project
to the satisfaction of all stakeholders," the ADB's Shah said.
The ADB has provided one million dollars financing
for several studies on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas
pipeline project, which may cost up to 2.5 billion dollars.
Shah suggested there could be a political solution.
"For the security of the projects, all the stakeholders,
including Balochs, should be involved and a political solution be
sought," Shah advised. But Pakistani officials said they were
confident about the future of the pipeline plans.
"Such incidents will not impede the gas
pipeline projects as they will be resolved amicably by the government
soon," Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources spokesman
Shaukat Hayat Durrani said. "Deliberations are ongoing about the
different aspects of the projects and multi-pronged progress is being
made on all the available options," he said.