By TOM WRIGHT
Pakistan isn't shying away from a fight with the US over
Washington's threat of sanctions if Islamabad continues to push
ahead with plans for a gas pipeline to Iran.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatened
sanctions if Pakistan goes ahead with the $1.5 billion
pipeline, a project which Washington views as
undermining its attempts to squeeze Iran to drop its nuclear
The next day, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar
hit back hard.
"All of these projects are in Pakistan's national
interest and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any
extraneous considerations," Ms. Khar said. "As far as our
bilateral relations and cooperation are concerned, we do not
make it contingent on views and policies of any third
For once, it appears Pakistan and India are taking a similar position.
New Delhi, too, has argued that it needs Iranian crude oil to
meet its energy needs, despite pressure from the US to cut
But could it be that leaders from both countries are likely
to talk tough in public and take a more conciliatory path
behind the scenes as Washington attempts to get countries to
back its attempts to cut off Iran's sources of foreign
Well, this is exactly what Mrs. Clinton said she believed was
going on - at least in India's case - in remarks to the US
Congress this week.
"With respect to India, they are making steps that are
heading in the right direction. In fact, I think in a number of
instances, the actions of countries and their banks are better
than the public statements that we sometimes hear them making,"
India has reportedly begun to look for alternate supplies of
oil from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Still, Pakistan is likely to prove a more difficult ally to
get on board.
For one, Pakistan's energy crisis is more dire than India's. The country relies on gas
for half of its energy needs and is already facing massive
shortfalls and daily blackouts which have gutted industrial
For sure, the planned pipeline wouldn't come on line until
2014 at the earliest. But Islamabad views the project as a key medium-term
strategy to get itself out of a hole.
The US argues that Pakistan could do more at home to end the
crisis, including stopping energy theft on its electricity grid
and moving to upgrade domestic sources of energy, including
developing renewable sources.
The State Department has been helping Pakistan upgrade its
existing facilities, especially thermal power
plants, and build dams.
US Consul General in Lahore, Nina Maria Fite, made this
point in remarks to Punjabi businessmen on Thursday.
"You have other domestic programs which can be easily
upgraded. You can work on them with coordination from us,
before considering the I-P gas pipeline to alleviate the
country's energy woes," The Express Tribune newspaper
quoted her as saying.
There's another reason, though, that Pakistan isn't
listening. After US helicopters mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani
soldiers on the border with Afghanistan in November, Islamabad
froze diplomatic relations with the US.
That means no delegations of senior Washington officials are
coming through Pakistan. The country's leaders remain furious
the Obama administration has not officially apologized for the
In this climate it seems unlikely Pakistan will do what the
US wants, especially when - for now, at least - it is not
taking talk of sanctions seriously, knowing the US wants a
stable and economically vibrant Pakistan to ensure Taliban
militants don't carve out a larger toe-hold there.
Dow Jones Newswires