In the right direction

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Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

The federal cabinet in its meeting on 30 January finally gave a go ahead for the construction of Pak-Iran gas pipeline, rejecting pressure from US and declaring it in the best interest of Pakistan. For the energy starved Pakistan, the project is of paramount importance to boost industrial production which has almost stagnated due to power shortages. Apart from the economic considerations of mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries, the Pak-Iran project is also a significant step in the direction of building regional linkages.

The move is also in conformity with the new thinking in the conduct of foreign relations that lays greater emphasis on strengthening regional security through economic and political cooperation with neighbours and countries of the region. Pakistan belongs to South Asian region and its economic and security interests are inextricably linked to geographical realities. The initiative represents a logical and realistic departure from the past philosophy of the architects of our foreign policy to look beyond the region for the economic and security needs of the country, which has pushed the country into a crucible of precipice. The new approach by the present government is going to serve our long term strategic, economic and political interests in this region, though the strategy might suffer some minor hiccups due to its conflict with the strategic interests of US in our part of the world.

The US has been pressurising Pakistan to abandon the idea ever since the project was conceived and has even tried to lure it away from it by offering to help in tiding over the energy crisis in other ways. The spokesperson of the US State Department Victoria Nuland speaking to the press on 9 February said that Pak-Iran pipeline was a bad idea and US had not changed its position on the subject and it was considering giving Pakistan different options to overcome its energy needs without the help of Iran. Again, speaking to the media on 21 February she alluded to the possibility of sanctions against Pakistan in case it went ahead with the venture.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to note that the government of Pakistan has refused to be dictated on the issue and is holding firm on its decision to ensure implementation of the project. President Zardari while talking to the Speaker of the Iranian Malise Shura Ali Ardeshir Larijani, when he visited Pakistan to attend the meeting of the parliamentary assembly of ECO, emphasised the need for early completion of all the bilateral projects including Pak-Iran gas pipeline, 1,000 MW Taftan-Quetta transmission line, 400 MW Gwadar power supply project, Noshki-Dalbandin highway and up-gradation of the Quetta-Taftan track. He said, “We have to take control of our own affairs and find our own solutions to the problems.” Pakistan and Iran are also in the process of negotiating the setting up of an oil refinery at Gwadar with a capacity to refine 400,000 barrels of oil daily. The President is expected to visit Iran soon to ink an agreement in this regard.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told the National Assembly that the government would not compromise on the project and would ensure its implementation within the stipulated time span. She also informed the house that this project had not come under the sanctions regime imposed on Iran by the UN which related to only the oil sector and did not cover the gas transmission ventures. She said Pakistan would respect the UN sanction; however, it was not bound to abide by the sanction clamped by USA and the European Union.

The resolve to take our own decisions and resisting undue pressures to compromise on the national interests mark a discernible paradigm shift in the conduct of our foreign relations and if the same thinking had permeated since the early days of independence we would have not been where we stand today. Most of our troubles and the challenges that we find ourselves surrounded with, one way or the other, owe their existence to the wrong policies pursued by the past regimes and the machinations of our so-called friend the USA.

The nature of relations between USA and Pakistan has always remained tactical in nature with the former using the latter to advance its own strategic and global interests. It has exhibited scant respect for the interests and sovereignty of Pakistan ever since Pakistan became its ally in the early fifties by joining SEATO and CENTO. It jeopardised our security by flying U2 spy plane from Budaber base near Peshawar without the knowledge of the government which irritated the former Soviet Union to the extent that it threatened Pakistan with dire consequences. The USA did not help us when we were attacked by India in 1965 and instead imposed embargo on sale of military hardware to Pakistan; an extremely unfriendly act against an ally. The much hyped sixth fleet never intervened to save dismemberment of Pakistan when India attached former East Pakistan. Pakistan was abandoned to suffer the fallout of the Afghan war after the Soviets pulled out of that country and we are still paying the price for the folly of our rulers to become a tool for the advancement of US interests in the region.

USA bitterly opposed our nuclear programme and even imposed sanctions through Pressler Amendment. Post-9/11 Pakistan was forced to join USA in the war on terror as a frontline state which has had devastating effect on our security, law and order situation and the economic profile of the country. Pakistan has suffered a loss of nearly US$ 68 billion by participating in the US campaign against terrorism and what it has been given is not even peanuts. Our country is confronted with an existentialist threat. It has pummeled our sovereignty with impunity in complete disregard to the international laws. The continuation of drone attacks, the Salala episode and the operation to take out Osama bin Laden are ranting examples of the highhanded tactics of the USA which by no stretch of imagination can be characterized as friendly acts.

The government is therefore moving in the right direction. We need to build regional linkages and gradually get out of any alliance with the USA. The best way to go about is to keep on strengthening our relations and cooperation with the regional countries and gradually lessen our dependence on US. For that Pakistan must facilitate the US to get out of Afghanistan as per the announced timeframe.

The writer is an academic.