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Pipeline pressure

March 01, 2012

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AMERICA would do well not to link Pakistan’s power requirements with Iran’s nuclear issue. While the former concerns this country’s desperate attempt to bridge the yawning power gap, the latter is a broader, geopolitical issue. Replying to a congressman’s question in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton warned Pakistan of consequences, especially for its “quite shaky” economy, if Islamabad went ahead with the pipeline deal with Iran. If the project went “beyond talk”, the secretary of state said, her country would apply “additional pressures” on Pakistan under the Iran Sanctions Act. Ms Clinton acknowledged that this country had “significant energy requirements” but said that a better alternative for Islamabad could be the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, because that would avoid “doing business with Iran”.

There is no doubt that TAPI could be an additional, though not the only, source of gas supply to Pakistan to enable the latter to meet its fast-expanding energy requirements. But the war in Afghanistan continues, and there is no guarantee there will be peaceful conditions in the aftermath of the American withdrawal. With security concerns dominating, TAPI has thus remained a pipedream so far. On the other hand, the pipeline with Iran could become a going concern, if Pakistan made a determined effort to execute the project, although there are several challenges not the least of which is the question of finances. America may “ratchet up” pressure on Iran, as Ms Clinton said, but it is hard to understand why, given Pakistan’s multiplying energy woes, the secretary of state should find it “somewhat inexplicable” that the country should want to go ahead with the Iran pipeline idea. Nevertheless, it is also true that a large part of Pakistan’s energy troubles today are of its own making, and the gas pipeline with Iran can at best be a partial solution.