Pakistan’s interests first
It is hardly a secret that Pakistan is going through a massive energy crunch. Electricity and gas load shedding, the intermittent supply of CNG and the high cost of all forms of energy are the daily misery of the people. If Pakistan then decides to seek energy from any and all sources, it can hardly be blamed. The recent trilateral summit amongst Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan yielded the assurances to Iran that Pakistan stands committed to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and enhancement of trade, apart from standing by Iran at a time when that country is undergoing sanctions and being threatened with military action by Israel and the US over its nuclear programme. It should come as no surprise therefore that both Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, in separate interactions with the media, should have reiterated their resolve to build the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, import electricity for Gwadar and Mekran from Iran (70 MW is reportedly already being received), and promote trade in local currencies and through barter with Tehran. The latter has in turn offered oil on deferred payment.
The prime minister and foreign minister felt compelled to respond to questions regarding US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Congressional testimony the other day that Pakistan could suffer sanctions if it goes ahead with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Although the US State Department has attempted damage control by denying Ms Clinton’s remarks amounted to a threat, in the current fraught state of relations between Washington and Islamabad, Ms Clinton’s remarks took on an ominous tone. Although Foreign Minister Khar reportedly relied on the present process of negotiations between the west and Iran regarding its alleged nuclear weapons programme yielding a solution to the impasse and sanctions against Iran (i.e. a ‘wait and see’ policy rather than the initial impression of firm resolve), this seems a long shot when Israel’s keenness to initiate a strike against Iran is public knowledge. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, known as a hawk on Iran, may be restrained by US President Barack Obama in their interaction in Washington, but nobody in their right mind can pin all their hopes on a peaceful solution to the standoff with Iran. The US currently has concerns regarding any military action against Iran threatening the lives of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter country already producing a crop of American personnel’s killings over the Quran burning issue.
Since the end of the Cold War, a pattern of the US-led western alliance ‘taking out’ governments they consider ‘recalcitrant' (i.e. not bending before US/western interests) through internal subversion and external military intervention has emerged. One only has to recall the recent examples of Libya and now Syria to see the picture. At the same time, the US-led western alliance’s ability to control events is not without challenge. Russia and China of late have demonstrated that the west will no longer be given a walkover when it comes to regime change in countries that have a different view than that of the western alliance. The withdrawal of US/NATO forces from the region in which Iraq and Afghanistan are located has produced a realignment of regional countries in their own interests and as a safeguard against the aftermath of instability that the withdrawal is likely to leave in its wake. It is therefore perfectly logical and explicable (Ms Clinton should take note) why Pakistan in its own interests first and foremost should seek friendly relations with its neighbours, including Iran, and try to resolve its energy needs from whatever sources they are available. A life and death issue like this one cannot be bartered away on the plane of expediency of any kind.