Mar 14 - 20, 2011

It is really a pity that despite facing worst energy crises, the present government has criminally neglected the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline project and has not yet even started the construction work required to be done on Pakistani side as per the agreement between the two countries while Iran has almost completed it inside its territory. According to the agreement, Pakistan was required to complete the construction work on its side for laying the pipeline for supply of about 5000 million cubic feet per day, more than enough to rid the country of the curse of load shedding, which has, besides causing discomfort to the public, crippled our industrial sector.

Iranian counsel general in Pakistan revealed this as a complaint, while talking to the newsmen in Lahore last week. He said that his country has completed the task ahead of schedule and now was waiting for Pakistan to complete its side of work for laying down the pipes for supply of badly needed gas to Pakistan.

Originally, a three-country agreement (Iran-Pakistan-India) was signed about 15 years back. It remained in limbo because of delaying tactics as the USA opposed to it and in the meanwhile offered India a nuclear energy plant. It was after a long wait that Iran and Pakistan finally signed Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project in May 2010 with a resolve to work on war-footings and start flow of gas to Pakistan at the earliest by 2013-14.

The agreement was signed despite opposition from the western world. The signing of the agreement was welcomed in Pakistan as a long term and sustainable solution of power generation problems. We already produce natural gas with its biggest reserve at Sui in Balochistan but it was not sufficient to meet our growing demands. The project was estimated to cost $7.5 billion and Pakistan was to bear the cost of pipe running in its territory.

It sounds unbelievable that any government can afford to neglect such an important project or take it so casually. Even cost wise, it is not prohibitive. Presently, we are faced with an unprecedented energy crisis that requires immediate construction of pipeline. It is worrisome situation in which frequent raise in the price of petrol and gas is creating social unrest reflected in protests and demonstrations that are taking place at virtually every corner of the country.

It is a pity that the government's apathy and laziness in promptly reciprocating the offer of help from the Iranian in the provision of gas at cheap rates has led to the resent situation. As a matter of fact, this project should have been given top priority and the work should have been undertaken at war footings as originally stipulated.

The Iranian Consul General cannot be faulted for expressing his disappointment at this situation. It is a crying shame that a project that could have fulfilled our energy needs to a very large extent and enhanced regional cooperation has been held up for unknown reasons. It is being alleged in concerned circles that the gas pipeline project has fallen victim to geopolitics, especially to America's insistence that commerce with Iran would amount to a violation the several layers of sanctions the UN, US and the EU have slammed on Iran.

India withdrawal from the project under American pressures complicated the matter. Pakistan was also forced to follow, completely forgetting the fact that India was compensated by the US in the form of a nuclear power plant but Pakistan was expected to follow their wishes without any such favor despite the fact that they were fully aware of the difficult position Pakistan was faced with.

Pakistan tried its best to make the US to appreciate its difficult position to either provide it also with a nuclear power plant like India or let us go ahead with the gas pipeline project with Iran.

International donors including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank were not willing to finance the project. Where the present government of Pakistan failed is the fact that it accepted all these pressers quietly without loud protests and bringing it to the world notice how badly it would hurt its economy if speedy measures are not taken to control its ever-rising energy shortage. Nor it made any serious effort to find financial help from other sources.

We criminally neglected the project of vital importance. The protest reminder from the Iranian diplomat is indeed a wake-up call for us.