Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s ominous threat to President Pervez Musharraf to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” in 2001 appears to be fulfilling now. Devoid of electricity, fuel and gas, Pakistan’s masses huddled around makeshift stoves during the cold bleak winter to keep warm. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, too, has recently turned the proverbial knife in the heart of hapless Pakistanis by threatening the country with sanctions, if it continues with the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project.
As Washington continues its war of words with Tehran over real or imaginary threats from the Iranian nuclear programme, the Obama administration is moving to squeeze Iran financially in a bid to force it to drop it. But Pakistan has so far withstood the pressure to line up behind the US, saying it needs neighbouring Iran to help it meet a massive energy shortage.
To rub salt in the wound, Ms Clinton admittedly told the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations last week that the Obama administration recognises Islamabad’s “essential energy needs thus it strongly supports the idea of construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.” She warned that the additional pressure that the US would be compelled to apply would further undermine Pakistan’s economic status. With roughly $1 billion allocated in the State Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2013 to help Pakistan address its energy challenges, Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis had asked Clinton about the US response if the IP project proceeds.
The US economic arm twisting comes amidst calls on India, China and Turkey to reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil. Ms Clinton confirmed last week the US was having “very intense and very blunt” conversations with the three countries on the issue. Also, Washington has been disrupting financial networks that Tehran relies on to get foreign currency for its oil sales. The pressure appears to have achieved some measures of success. The European Union agreed in January to ban Iranian oil imports from July 1. India has stood firm in public, saying it needs Iranian oil. But, according to the Indian media, the country has quietly been seeking increased oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in a bid to wean itself off Iranian supply, thus acquiescing to US demands.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has rejected the US threats and said that the pipeline was crucial for the country’s energy security. Thus, the multi-billion dollar deal with Iran is still on. It may be remembered that an earlier plan to extend the pipeline through to India at a total cost of $7 billion, was dropped after New Delhi pulled out under American pressure. The current project spread over 2,775km pipeline is valued at $1.5 billion and scheduled for completion by 2014. Once operations begin, Iran has committed to supply 750 million cubic feet of gas per day for 25 years. Pakistan relies on gas for most of its energy needs, but dwindling domestic supplies are forcing the country to rely on imports. Gas shortages have contributed to an energy shortfall, which means that most parts of the country suffer lengthy blackouts on a daily basis and the compressed natural gas run vehicles are stranded without fuel.
The US economic terrorism may work on New Delhi where, according to Admiral Robert Willard, the US Special Forces are stationed in five South Asian countries, including India and Sri Lanka. Although India has publicly rejected the claim as being “factually incorrect”, yet Hindu duplicity is well documented to be believed.
The US is considering opening a new front in Iran, while it has not been able to subdue a bunch of cave dwellers in Afghanistan whose main means of transportation is donkeys. History is replete with examples of past powers that tried to subdue Afghanistan, but lie buried in its wasteland.
Pakistan’s acute energy shortage will not let it wilt under USA’s economic terrorism. It formally remains a part of the TAPI agreement too, but the conditions in the war ravaged and strife torn Afghanistan are not conducive yet to the commissioning of the TAPI pipeline through it. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is in addition to TAPI. If the US is a well-wisher of the impoverished masses of Pakistan, it should stop its economic blackmailing and let its erstwhile most non-Nato ally have access to gas from Iran to keep its hearths burning, rather than threaten it of dire consequences.
The writer is a political and defence analyst.