DESPITE repeated assurances by successive governments that the scheme is still on the table, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is going nowhere. The principal opposition to the project comes from foreign actors who do not wish to see the pipeline completed.
This troubling reality was again highlighted during a Senate committee meeting on Wednesday, during which officials told lawmakers that “commercial and foreign concerns” were standing in the way of the long-awaited completion of the project.
The foreign quarters referred to are the US and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia, who have geopolitical qualms about Pakistan deepening economic ties with Iran. Where commercial concerns go — gas pricing, project financing, etc — these can be negotiated with Iran bilaterally.
However, dispelling the concerns our foreign friends have about the scheme is proving to be a complex proposition for Pakistan.
The confusion and lack of commitment surrounding the scheme does not present Pakistan in a very positive light where honouring international obligations is concerned.
The PDM government had assured the nation during its final days that efforts were being made to secure waivers for the project from the US to ward off potential sanctions.
Whenever the next elected government takes charge, they must handle this issue with clarity, keeping national interest above all else. There can be little disagreement that Pakistan needs cheap gas for its homes and industries.
Yet a fragile economy cannot afford debilitating sanctions. Therefore, a legally sound approach needs to be pursued on the diplomatic front to communicate to the US that Pakistan must honour its commitment to Iran. If finding dollars to fund the scheme is difficult, alternative currencies can be used, just as the yuan was used to buy Russian oil.
The fact is that in the future, geopolitical turbulence is likely to increase, and developing states, including Pakistan, will directly and indirectly be asked to take sides. The US, for example, also has issues with CPEC.
If, in the future, Washington asks us to abandon this and other Chinese-backed schemes, will we comply? With the pipeline, too, we can either continue to stall and risk messy international arbitration and get ready to pay billions in penalties, or we can keep our interests paramount, tell foreign critics that Pakistan needs cheap energy, and move forward with this and other schemes beneficial to the country.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2023