Why did President Asif Ali Zardari defy the United States (by going ahead with the Iran-Pakistan pipeline deal) and claim during his speech in Larkana that he cares a toss for the US?
Consider. The Pakistan-Iran pipeline, if it ever gets off the ground, will only happen after, at best, three years because even the feasibility study that has just been commissioned by Pakistan won’t be completed till October 2013 and the pipeline construction can only commence when that is done. By that time, parts of Iran will be charred to smoking heaps and the pipeline project a part of history. Or, if that does not happen, Iran will arguably possess a nuclear weapon.
In either eventuality, maintaining US sanctions would be pointless, particularly if a nuclear Iran moves smartly to assuage international concerns by agreeing to a ‘no-first strike’ pledge and thereby eliminating, or nearly so, the danger of a nuclear conflagration with Israel.
Alternately, if there is a US-Iran war, the ‘force majeure’ exemption clause in international contracts allows one, or both parties, to withdraw without incurring any penalty, so what the heck?
Of course, if meanwhile, the US-Iran stand-off is resolved diplomatically, so much the better, as the lifting of US and UN sanctions on Iran would obviously form part of any settlement and hence, the pipeline project could proceed smoothly.
Mr Zardari also stands to benefit politically in the run-up to the general elections next year by claiming he is bravely standing up to American bullying. And just in case the PPP is wiped out by the Imran-generated tsunami, the next government, and not Zardari, will have to deal with the US and the consequences of his ‘brave’ stance.
The only risk President Zardari is taking is angering America and, of course, risking suspension of US assistance for the next 12-24 months. That, too, should not be that much of a bother since there is hardly any prospect of near term inflow of US aid even if the current gridlock is eventually removed.
Moreover, Pakistan can easily survive without US largesse for the next couple of years. Besides, it has other cards to play, including the resumption/cutting off of Nato supplies to Afghanistan and of a ‘US-friendly’/ ‘US-unfriendly’ role in the event of a US- Iran war to remind the US to tread lightly for its own good.
Moreover, if the government fails to raise the estimated $6-7 billion that Pakistan is required to incur for the completion of the project, it would have nevertheless demonstrated concern for the ‘welfare’ of the people and regard for neighbour Iran by concluding the agreement.
This was evident, too, in Ms Khar’s remark that in case the US imposed sanctions — as if that is not a foregone conclusion considering that the US is obliged to do so by law — Pakistan would weigh the pros and cons before taking a final decision on the project.
Actually, it would perhaps have been wiser for the PPP-led government, and especially President Zardari, to wait when there is so much uncertainty. Moreover, by the time the feasibility report is done, his co-signatory, Iranian Presiden Mahmoud Ahmedinijad may well be out of a job. Khamenei will likely abolish the post of president using the parliament he now dominates and Iran will be in a deeper mess, not to mention even more isolated internationally.
Why then has the president pushed ahead nonetheless, notwithstanding so much uncertainty?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2012.