Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline defies US

 

The two leaders unveiled a plaque at the site, as the BBC's Mike Wooldridge reports

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have inaugurated a controversial gas pipeline linking the two neighbours.

The US has warned that the project could incur sanctions connected with Iran's nuclear programme.

The long-delayed pipeline is seen in Pakistan as a way of alleviating the country's chronic energy shortages.

The work on the Iranian side is almost complete. Construction in Pakistan will begin on Monday.

Analysis

The pipeline decision is bound to provide an additional irritant in relations between Washington and Islamabad. The US has consistently warned that the pipeline - if built - could potentially lead to US sanctions against Pakistan as part of Washington's efforts to contain Iran's nuclear programme.

Washington insiders, though, suggest that this would be more likely to become an issue once the gas flow was ready to be switched on. That could still be some years away. Indeed, one of Washington's biggest criticisms of the pipeline is that it does nothing to address Pakistan's immediate energy needs.

The US sees a good measure of domestic Pakistan politics in all of this - elections are looming - and it may be for a future government in Islamabad to face the moment of truth: either to risk US sanctions by switching the gas on or to risk domestic criticism by being seen to cave in to US pressure.

Live television footage showed the two presidents shaking hands with dignitaries as the ceremony got under way at the border.

"There are people who are against the progress of Iran, Pakistan and other countries. They have found an excuse - called the nuclear issue - to exert pressure on Iran and to prevent its progress," President Ahmadinejad said.

"I want to tell them the gas pipeline has nothing to do with nuclear energy; you can't make an atomic bomb with natural gas."

President Zardari said the project was very important for Pakistan and was not "directed against any other country".

A total of 780km (485 miles) of pipeline is due to be built in the country over the next two years.

Dubbed the "peace pipeline", talks on the project began in 1994. The pipeline was initially intended to carry gas on to India, but Delhi withdrew from negotiations in 2009, just a year after it signed a nuclear deal with the US.

The US says the project would enable Iran to sell more of its gas, undermining efforts to step up pressure over Tehran's nuclear activities.

"If this deal is finalised for a proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline, it would raise serious concerns under our Iran Sanctions Act. We've made that absolutely clear to our Pakistani counterparts," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters last week.

Washington - a major donor to Pakistan - has also argued that there are other ways to ease Pakistan's energy crisis. One option favoured by the US is a plan to import gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan, which has been under discussion for years.

But power shortages have become a major and pressing issue in Pakistan, and the government there insists it will not bow to pressure.

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A nationwide power cut last month was blamed on a technical fault in a plant in south-western Balochistan province, but it highlighted the energy challenges the country faces.

Blackouts are common in Pakistan because of chronic power shortages, and many areas are without electricity for several hours a day,

Last year, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the pipeline was "in Pakistan's national interest" and would be completed "irrespective of any extraneous considerations".

BBC world affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge notes that some analysts say President Zardari feels it is an opportune time to be assertive with the US, with elections on the horizon in Pakistan.

But our correspondent says Pakistan acknowledges that the pipeline route through the troubled province of Balochistan presents significant security challenges.

Separatist rebels fighting for autonomy and an increased share of mineral resources have frequently targeted pipelines in the gas-rich province.

 

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  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 25.

    This is not about the US it is about Sanctions imposed on Iran by the United Nations. Iran and Pakistan are flying in the face of this. All the uS has done is to state the International position according to International Law.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 24.

    Can you imagine having to reset all those clocks and appliances every time there is a power 'outage' in Pakistan??
    I can't imagine how annoyed people will be, so we will just have to let Iran have the cash to end the world in a nuclear conflagration.
    Makes sense in a weird sort of political way doesn't it??

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 23.

    The sooner someone teaches the US that they don't own everybody and everything, the better!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 22.

    Will the UK Givernment be taking any steps to ensure that UK Foreign Aid donations to Pakistan do not fund the oil pipelone project?

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 20.

    All nations have to enable their country to function, Energy is a must. As for exporting terrorism etc, I think I recall Central america, Contras, Drugs

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 19.

    I think that is one of the rare moments where realpolitik rather than ideology have guided the Pakistan government's decisions, forging an alliance with its Shia neighbour. The US cannot and should not try to influence every decision other states take. I hope that the pipeline does make its way to India too.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 18.

    a good move by Iran-Pakistan, it will obviously rile the USA as they dont want Iran doing anything, and are just itching to start a war with them. i see regular Drone strikes blowing up this pipeline with many civillian casualties noone cares about.....sad.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 17.

    We'll be facing power outages soon, so what has our Governments' done for the passed 25 years? Nothing.

  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 16.

    So many people prepared to have a pop at the USA over this, unless Iran can be pressurised into stopping exporting terrorism or threatening to nuke Israel and precipitate a third world war it will become a reality

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 15.

    I was brought up on a diet of US/western/anti-communist/anti-Islam propaganda. I was a brain-washed pseudo-intellectual based on hand-picked western "facts".

    Then I had a chance to study 19th & 20th century history, official documents released after time restrictions, making friends from the "other side", & simply asking "WHY".

    USA played against all sides for its own ends, including "friends".

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 14.

    Why is that no country in this world can make a decision on their own without being USA breathing down their neck. USA needs to stop the bullying act - every country is free to do what they deem right - esp. when it comes to developing countries like Pakistan trying to deal with not only its energy crisis but also terrorism, sectarian war, poverty and handful of other problems

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 13.

    If the US don't want Pakistan to buy Iranian fuel they need to offer an alternative. And anyway its not really much worse to buy fuel from Iran than to buy it from Arabia.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 12.

    Won't be long before Mr Hague is jumping on the American bandwagon protesting in support of their stance on the matter.
    Why don't we alter our approach with these people and welcome change instead of the consistent negativity. They say the only way things change is for one to break the cycle?

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 10.

    America is the biggest bully in the world

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    Yet another example of USA mishandling a situation. Unreliable as Pakistan might be, the USA needs their co-operation in the fight against extremist acts of terrorism and the elimination of terrorist training grounds in the area.

    This 'Bully Boy' approach is unlikely to help matters and, to me, it looks more like a 'dummy-spitting tantrum'. Better, some skilled diplomatic response.

  • rate this
    -16

    Comment number 8.

    Shouldn't be too difficult to hit this pipeline with a drone strike on a regular basis. This after all is what both Iran and Pakistan see as the way to further extremist causes , so a tiny dose of their own medicine might be called for.

  • rate this
    +37

    Comment number 7.

    It's worth remembering that Iran hasn't actually broken any laws with its nuclear programme. It's met all the NPT requirements to the letter.

    Claims about it creating bombs are completely unsubstantiated, with no evidence AT ALL having been provided by the US. As such the sanctions against it cannot be justified.

    It's just the same bluster we had about Iraq before the invasion.

  • rate this
    +27

    Comment number 6.

    Good news for both Pakistan and Iran. No wonder America does not like it!

 

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