EACH time it appears that the Iran-Pakistan pipeline deal is edging closer towards final status, an old roadblock appears: the objections of the US. With US sanctions against Iran being tightened further this month and talks between the US and Iran on the latter’s nuclear programme apparently going nowhere, Pakistan’s attempt to import gas from Iran was inevitably going to be the source of some friction in Pakistan-US relations. As a Wall Street Journal blog reported on Wednesday from Islamabad, the US embassy in Pakistan had this to say in response to WSJ queries about the IP pipeline: “Our policy on Iran is well-known. We have made it clear to all of our interlocutors around the world that it is in their interests to avoid activities that may be prohibited by UN sanctions or sanctionable under US law.”
If Pakistan does press ahead, would businesses and individuals connected to the IP pipeline really be placed under US, and perhaps UN, sanctions? For now, the US is taking the soft route of quiet discouragement; but with the construction of the pipeline on the Pakistani side due to commence soon and gas scheduled to flow by the end of 2014, the soft voice may turn into the big stick. Pakistan can and should resist this US pressure. To suggest this is not to advocate defiance for defiance’s sake but a calculated risk on Pakistan’s part. These are the bare facts: Pakistan has a huge energy deficit; gas shortages here will grow exponentially over the next few years; there are no obvious quick fixes at home; imported gas, while more expensive than locally produced gas, is still much cheaper than furnace oil and is the most logical choice; and among the imported gas options, the IP pipeline is one of the most viable and cost-effective.
Those bare facts amount to a solid case to press for an on-schedule implementation of the IP pipeline. And it’s not as if Pakistan is the only country trading energy with Iran. Even now, China and India import substantial amounts of oil from Iran and Turkey helps ease payments through. If those countries can do it — and their energy situation is nowhere as dire as Pakistan’s — then why must Pakistan sit on the sidelines? Ultimately, though, Pakistan can make its case on the basis of a sound cost-benefit analysis: are growing energy shortages here, and the social unrest and economic cost that entails, worth the price of adding but a tiny sliver of further pressure on the Iranian energy sector by blocking the IP pipeline? Surely, the answer must be no.