President Asif Ali Zardari’s state visit to Dushanbe, to meet with the heads of state of Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran may be one of the most consequential of his presidency. With Pakistan’s energy crisis becoming ever more grave, the need for power has never been more acute. It was heartening, then, that the president insisted that Pakistan would go ahead with both the Iran gas pipeline and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. As welcome as these words are, there is every chance that they will collide with the immovable forces of superpower politics and the threat of militancy. Of the two proposed pipeline projects, the Iran gas pipeline is by far the more viable option. It is more affordable than the TAPI pipeline and also faces less threat of being blown up by extremists. The TAPI pipeline would run through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan and Quetta in Pakistan, which makes the chances of sabotage more of a certainty than a possibility.
The Iran pipeline, on the other hand, faces the equally deadly American veto. The US, through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has already floated the threat of sanctions should Pakistan go through with the proposal. The US has also been making use of back channels to put funding for the project into peril. A Chinese bank withdrew its promise of money for the pipeline after quiet US intervention. Now, if the two countries want to continue with the pipeline, they will have to come up with the funding themselves. So given how essential the pipeline is for Pakistan’s future, it is time we call America’s bluff and ensure the project is completed.
Presently, Pakistan is facing a gas shortage of one billion cubic feet per day and, short of massive price increases that would more than double the cost of gas to consumers, the only way to meet the demand is through these pipelines. Once the gas pipelines are functional, the TAPI pipeline is estimated to allow Pakistan the import of 10 billion cubic metres of gas every year, while the Iran pipeline would facilitate the import of one billion cubic feet per day. The Americans might threaten to shut off the aid spigot, but this is one occasion where we need to keep our long-term interests in mind, even if they lead to a clash with Washington.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2012.