Gas reservoirs are one of the biggest natural resources of Pakistan. However, on account of their shared boundaries, countries in the Asian region need to support one another to achieve development at the highest level. When this idea was first conceived by a young Pakistani civil engineer Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan in mid 1950s, Iran responded positively and proposed that India join the league as well. However, the withdrawal of India from the project due to US interference both in the project and the region has created hurdles to the realization of the project whose impact is felt even now. The issue has become a part of global geopolitics in the Asian region. In view of the current energy crises, if governments of the Asian countries and the UN could play an important role in bringing India, Pakistan and Iran round the table to resolve the issues impeding realization of the project, it is believed that both the material and peace tensions in the region could be dispelled.
Peace pipeline, strengthening the Asian region…
After conception of the “Persian pipeline” project in bilateral talks between Pakistan and Iran, Iran accepted the proposal and signed a preliminary agreement with Pakistan in 1995. Iran also proposed to India to extend the pipeline from Pakistan to India. A preliminary agreement to this end was signed between Iran and India in 1999. Another name for what has come to be known as the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline is the “Peace Pipeline”. The detailed bilateral talks with India and Iran were held on gas volumes, project structure, governing laws, pipeline routes, and principles of transport tariffs and transit fees. However, in 2009 India withdrew from the project due to security and pricing concerns after signing a nuclear deal with the USA in 2008. And the project has been on ice ever since. On April 12, 2010, Iran announced that it had completed construction on 1,000 kilometers of the pipeline out of the 1,100 kilometre section on Iranian territory. After completion of the work on its part, Iran has given up on India, and is pursuing the project in collaboration with Pakistan.
In 2008, Iran expressed the desire to include China in this project as well, as this could create a regional alliance between rising economies and would also eradicate the concept of regional hegemony. This can be seen as a major breakthrough in the region as China is also considered as an emerging superpower. It could serve as a protective shield against any powers who attempt to disturb peace in the region.
The US strongly opposes India being a part of the IPI and has succeeded in detaching India from it since the nuclear deal is now being finalised. Besides, it has also proposed an alternative gas supply to Pakistan from Central Asia in a project called Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipelines (TAPI). It has also enforced more sanctions on Iran and is trying to isolate the country from the whole region so that Iran becomes economically destabilised. The reasons behind such politics and interference are very well known to the whole world: the US doesn’t want Iran to be economically strengthened. Many critics say that US doesn’t want to end the “war on terror” in the South Asian region. It has been surmised that the oil reserves of Gulf countries will be depleted in the next 40-50 years in which case the US would look to Asia for oil reserves, only it cannot acquire oil without being present in the region. This is the US stake for not allowing peace treaties to prevail in the region. It also doesn’t want China to gain more influence in the region which is why it has increasingly and unduly interfered with IPI. Consequently, IPI has become an IP (Iran-Pakistan) pipeline project only.
Internal conflicts of Pakistan
Balochistan contributes the largest share of natural resources in Pakistan. The provinces have certain rights and if the federal government encroaches on them, they raise objections. Since the federal government has encroached on their rights, the people of Balochistan have always raised their voices in protest. Despite being rich in natural resources, the people of Balochistan remain economically marginalised and neglected. The feudal lords have launched several liberation movements and have been very hostile in an attempt to draw the attention of the federal government of Pakistan. Despite such loud protests, however, the federal government hasn’t paid attention which has resulted in rivalry between the two provinces. Moreover, the government of Pakistan has always taken strict measures to counter such uprisings yet without providing any economic incentive or giving back a proper share of the wealth extracted. In order to make IPI a success, Pakistan needs to change its strategy of dealing with power and should try to negotiate with the people of Balochistan so that a peace treaty can be reached. A peaceful Baluchistan is the very first requirement for successful completion and commissioning of this pipeline project. And peace in Baluchistan will ensure the development and prosperity of Pakistan itself.
- International Scenario: I believe that India should once more become a part of the Pipeline project as it will foster the economic development of the whole region. Most importantly, it will resolve the ages old boundary conflict between India and Pakistan and will become a symbol of the necessity of peaceful borders. To this end, the UN and SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) should play an important role in bringing India, Pakistan and Iran round the table once more to resolve the issues impeding realization of the project.
- National Scenario: Pakistan should be courageous enough to take a bold stance vis-à-vis the US with regard to the “peace pipeline” as the pipeline will help to promote industrial growth in Pakistan and also help in strengthening the India-Pakistan relationship. It could also aid in finding a solution to the Kashmir issue as well as helping increase the number of development projects run in collaboration with China, especially projects in Balochistan. It should bring economic and infrastructural prosperity to Balochistan along with peace and security. These steps will help to minimize the influence of the US over Pakistan’s governance policies. The government of Pakistan needs to be serious in devising intelligent and peaceful policies to counter the riots backed by the feudal lords in Balochistan. It should also make a fair division of resources which is only possible by allocating a proper budget, equal job opportunities, improving the infrastructure and giving access to the basic necessities of life (food, shelter, education) to the people of Balochistan.