The Iranian connection

Work on much-delayed gas pipeline is far advanced on the Iranian side and needs to be put on fast-forward in Pakistan

Editorial March 27, 2016
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on January 19, 2016. PHOTO: PM OFFICE

President Hassan Rowhani of Iran and his delegation have returned home, and both sides will consider the last two days work as time well spent. Iran is fast emerging as an important trading partner and energy supplier. Work on the much-delayed gas pipeline is far advanced on the Iranian side and needs to be put on fast-forward in Pakistan. Iran is said to be able to provide gas for Pakistan “within a few months” – welcome news in the light of the current gas shortages nationally. The project has been dogged by difficulty and delay from the outset. It is to be hoped that the path is now clear for it to reach fruition. Iran already sells 1,000MW of electricity to Pakistan and this is to be increased to 3,000MW.

Bilateral trade volumes are to be increased to $5 billion annually by 2021. Trade between Iran and Pakistan has dropped significantly as a by-product of the sanctions imposed on Iran, but with the majority of these now lifted or in the process of being lifted, there is good reason to believe that previous trade levels can be restored and exceeded.

Rowhani’s visit has put meat on the bones of a strategic partnership that is being reshaped in line with the general overhaul of foreign policy in Pakistan – and in Iran in the newly relaxed environment. Energy and infrastructure are the most visible signs of a shift, but there are deeper movements in geopolitical relationships regionally that Pakistan is a party to, with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor being the catalyst for much of what is turning into bilateral agreements and MoUs. The interdependency of contiguous states none of which has territorial aspirations in respect of one another has enormous potential for all, but there are risks. Security is the elephant in the room and Pakistan is far from being secure. There are clear and present threats to some of the proposed projects, and energy infrastructure is difficult to protect and defend in its entirety. That said – and presumably understood by all concerned – we warmly welcome these timely developments.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th,  2016.

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