In what will be one of its last meetings, the federal cabinet has opted to go in for the long discussed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, a multibillion-dollar project under which gas would be piped in from Iran into Pakistan. This venture, as Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira emphasised while speaking on the cabinet meeting, would help Pakistan overcome a drastic shortfall in its energy needs, thereby giving a much needed boost to the industrial sector in the country. In the past months, the issue of the need for the pipeline has been raised many times at various forums.
But, things are not quite as simple as they seem. While in theory, the pipeline makes excellent sense, in reality it raises questions as far as the matter of Pakistan-US ties goes. The US, which of course sees Iran as an enemy, has consistently opposed the project with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton describing it as ‘inexplicable’. From Pakistan’s point of view it is entirely explicable. Following the most recent cabinet meeting, US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson has also, once more, expressed reservations over the venture. But of course, while in practical terms we need the US as an ally, Pakistan must also safeguard its own interests.
The pipeline from Iran could help it in many ways, and this should be a primary concern. Skilful diplomacy is needed and the months ahead will show the degree to which this is successfully exercised by Pakistan, which has only recently succeeded in repairing ties with Washington and easing some of the strains that had crept in through 2012.
We must ask also why this decision has been taken so late in the day. The matter is a delicate one; the present government has no time left to deal with it, and this raises the issue of whether it may not have been wiser and fairer at this stage to leave the question for the incoming government to settle, so that it could work out its strategy and determine how to tackle Washington while retaining our rights as a sovereign nation, determined to do the best for its people.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2013.
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