Iran – Pakistan Gas Pipeline Deal in favour of Both ,But the US Pressure’s against it for its Benefits
JNN 16 Sept 2011 Islamabad : Islamabad has requested for increasing the volume of gas importing from Iran despite the renewed opposition from the U.S. over the multi-billion-dollar Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.
Islamabad has formally requested Tehran to increase the volume of gas exports to Pakistan from the previously agreed amount of 20 million cubic meters per day (MCM/d) to 50 MCM/d, the head of the National Iranian Gas Exporting Company said on Saturday.
Pakistan is currently facing a major energy crisis, which some analysts believe may be the worst in its history. It desperately needs Iranian gas and is not shy to say it. “Our dependence on the Iran pipeline is very high. There is no other substitute at present to meet our growing demand for energy” stated Pakistani minister for petroleum, Asim Hussain recently.
The import of gas from Iran has been part of a long running project, called The Peace Pipeline, to build a pipeline from Iran to go through Pakistan first and then India to deliver gas to both countries. In 1995 Pakistan and Iran signed a preliminary agreement. Due to US pressure against it, this deal was not finalised until June 2010. Iran and India signed an agreement in 1999, but, due to pressure from Washington, India never finalised the deal.
Even when Pakistan did sign on, it never gave the order to start work on the construction of the pipeline from its border to import Iran’s gas, until July 6th this year. Two major factors seem to have pushed the Pakistanis over the start line. One is the ensuing energy crisis at home. The other is that the competitor to the Peace Pipeline, the Trans Afghanistan Pipeline, is considered to be too risky as the main source of Pakistan’s energy, since it runs through Taliban territory in Afghanistan.
SHANA news agency quoted Hossein Bidarmaghz as saying that according the former contract between the two countries, it is on the agenda that Iran would export 21 mm3/pd of natural gas to Pakistan since the beginning of 2014, but in the recent trip of Pakistani energy minister to Iran, Islamabad requested for increasing the amount by 30 million cubic meters per day.
He asserted that Iran has the potential capacity to supplying the gas demand of Pakistan.
“Iran has already built 80 percent of its portion of the gas pipeline up to the Pakistani border and Pakistan aims to speed up the construction of its portion of the gas pipeline project to begin supplying gas by 2014 or even one year earlier”, the official further said.
It’s possible that this, as well as the expulsion of US trainers, was partly responsible for the US decision to suspend part of its military aid to Pakistan. But, whether or not the two events are explicitly linked, the current rift with Washington has made it easier for Pakistan to ignore US pressure and pursue the Peace Pipeline deal with Iran. Not only have the Iranians secured Pakistan as a client, they know Pakistan’s dire need for Iranian gas means they will not be leaving Iran’s side anytime soon. Some analysts have estimated that gas from Iran provide at least 20 percent of Pakistan’s energy needs. Others have suggested 50 percent.
The Pakistan’s new request is while that the United States has renewed its opposition to the multi-billion-dollar Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, warning that Islamabad’s continuous pursuit of the plan may invoke US sanctions.
The renewed opposition from the U.S. came just days after high level talks between Pakistan and Iran, where the two neighbors vowed to go ahead with the project that would bring its first gas flow by 2014.
The question that must now be asked is, how far will the Pakistan-Iran rapprochement go? In all likelihood, not very far.
However, a senior government official of Pakistan said that despite opposition from the U.S., Pakistan would not abandon the project, as an agreement has already been signed with Tehran, South Asian News Agency reported.
Aside from this recent victory, the most that Iranians can look forward to is the possibility of closer security cooperation with the Pakistanis against the remnants of the Jundollah terrorist organisation, an ethnic Baloch group that spans both countries. When it comes to Iran’s nuclear programme and its influence in the Middle East, Tehran is unlikely to find Pakistan of much help.
As new Wikileaks reports indicate, despite the help of Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan in building Iran’s post-revolution nuclear programme, some top Pakistani officials do not want Iran to become a nuclear armed power. The Pakistani leadership, wishing for their country to remain the only nuclear Islamic state, cooperated with George W. Bush’s efforts against Iranian nuclear development. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.
There is also the question of Saudi Arabia. Islamabad has very close relations with Riyadh. In Washington arms control and Middle East policy analyst circles, it has long been speculated that, should Iran become a nuclear power, Pakistan would be obliged to provide a nuclear umbrella to protect Saudi Arabia. What’s not a theory is the fact that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have close economic and political relations that are far more extensive and important to Pakistan than anything Iran could offer.
In the ensuing cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is unlikely to leave the Saudi side. Last but not least, despite the rift, Pakistan still maintains relations with the US. It still receives approximately $1.2 billion in annual aid. It will not want to risk losing this. The recent deal is a victory for Iran, but not one that the US should lose sleep over.