Pakistan rejects US call to drop Iran gas pipeline
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 program.
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 country."
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 back.
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 currency?
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," she said.
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 production.
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 strike.
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
From the Archive