IRAN-PAKISTAN GAS PIPELINE

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

June 28 - July 04, 20
10

Over the years, Pakistan's economy has developed high dependence on natural gas because of limited production of crude oil and failure in exploiting huge coal reserves.

The nature has been more than kind enough to Pakistan as one successful discovery of gas field led to another. As a result, natural gas became the major source of fuel for domestic, commercial, and industrial consumers. Many of the thermal power stations, though having dual fire system mostly use gas. Fertiliser industry emerged the single largest gas consumer with production capacity exceeding six million tons lately and another one million tons expected to come on line within 2010. Lately, Pakistan has also emerged as one of the largest consumers of CNG in transport sector.

Having such a high dependence on natural gas and demand surpassing supply particularly during winter Pakistan needs gas. The country has two options: import gas from one of the neighboring countries through pipeline or import LNG from a country offering the best bargain. Pakistan and Iran agreed decades ago to construct a pipeline and discovery of Paras gas field paved the way for Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline.

There was also plan to extend the pipeline to China. However, the USA emerges the biggest opponent of the project for two reasons 1) it is the lead sponsor of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and 2) the biggest opponent of Iranís nuclear program and most active in imposition of economic sanctions. Therefore, its resistance against IPI was but natural.

Ironically, Pakistan either failed in reading the US stance or suffered from the illusion that IPI faced no threat because of Indian presence. India under the complete US dominance kept on raising issues one after the other and in the mean time negotiated a deal with the US for acquiring nuclear technology for civilian use. Simultaneously, it also entered into agreements for the purchase of LNG. Though India hasn't abandoned IPI officially as yet considering it a partner is hoping against hopes.

With the latest round of economic sanctions imposed on Iran, pressure on Pakistan to abandon the project has further intensified. It looks most probable that Pakistan would succumb to the US pressure or accept some other option but will not be offered nuclear technology by the US.

Pakistan still has an argument to insist on Iran-Pakistan (as India is already out for all practical purposes) pipeline. If the US allows India to construct Chabahar port in Iran and also road and railway link up to the Central Asian Countries via Afghanistan, Pakistan should also be allowed to construct Iran-Pakistan pipeline. Else treat Pakistan at par with India and provide the same nuclear technology for civilian use. Promises are not enough. Actual supply has to be executed at the earliest.

Since Pakistan is the frontline partner in war against terror, it deserves adequate compensation for the economic losses being incurred. One of the ways of compensating is to allow Pakistan to go ahead with Iran-Pakistan pipeline.

In fact, it is the most economic proposal because, 1) the only capital expenditure will be on construction of pipeline connecting Pakistan with Iran. The country already has a comprehensive transmission and distribution network. The added advantages will be less pollution and no change in the habits of consumers. Nuclear power generation addresses only one aspect electricity but Pakistan needs gas for fertiliser plants, other industries and vehicles.

Lately, some of the quarters were actively soliciting support for TAPI by terming IPI more susceptible to terrorist attacks. However, they forgot that war-ridden Afghanistan with warlords controlling different areas is more prone to sabotages. It is also beyond doubt that whatever terrorism is going on in Pakistan is being sponsored, nurtured and supported by the intelligence agencies of countries, which want to destabilise Pakistan. In this regard, events taking place in Balochistan and the statements issued by certain groups create most confusion.

On the day Abdolmalik Rigi was hanged in Iran, his followers freed four under trial accused in Pakistan. Rigi's religious outfit Jundullah was banned in Pakistan because of undertaking terrorist activities both in Pakistan and Iran. However, statements declaring Rigi a martyr have also appeared in the local media. In his interview with a local television channel, Iranian ambassador didn't mince his words and termed Rigi and its outfit 'terrorist'. In such a scenario appearance of statements terming him martyr in local media hints that certain elements are adamant at spoiling Iran Pakistan relationship.

Lately, the US has also warned Europe that Iran has hundreds of missiles aimed at it for soliciting support for the imposition of more stringent sanctions on Iran. However, the trackrecord of the US intelligence agencies is not very credible.

Over more than a decade long war in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have not succeeded in finding the basic cause for attack 1) weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 2) Osama bin Ladhen in Afghanistan. Therefore, the world must ask the US to provide credible evidence that Iran is preparing atomic warheads and its nuclear program is not peaceful.

Imposing three rounds of sanctions has not deterred Iran from the program it terms peaceful. Let the world benefit from huge oil and gas reserves of Iran. Keeping crude oil prices high by restricting oil export from Iraq and Iran has been hurting energy deficient countries. Both India and Pakistan need uninterrupted gas supply of energy for keeping their economies robust.

Limited availability of energy has become the biggest hurdle in accelerating Pakistan's GDP rate. On top of this, the war on terror now being fought within Pakistan's borders is crippling life of ordinary citizens. There is growing consensus among the masses that most of the woes are the outcome of the US policies pertaining to Pakistan. Some of the cynics go to the extent of saying that Pakistan has become subservient to the US policies and interest of masses being compromised to help the US in achieving its global agenda.