United States Secretary of State
Hillary "We came, we saw, he died" Clinton's
message to Pakistan was stark; try to go ahead
with the IP (Iran-Pakistan) gas pipeline, and
we're going to take you out financially.
Islamabad, its economy in tatters, living
in power-cut land, and desperate for energy, tried
to argue. Pakistan's top official in the Petroleum
and Natural Resources Ministry, Muhammad Ejaz
Chaudhry, stressed that the 2,775-km, $1.5 billion
IP was absolutely crucial for Pakistan's energy
That fell on deaf ears. Clinton
evoked "particularly damaging" sanctions - tied to
Washington's push to isolate Iran by all means
available and the no-holds-barred campaign to
India, China and Turkey
to cut off their imports of Iranian oil and gas.
So as Washington has been impotent to
disrupt Pipelineistan moves in Central Asia - by
isolating Iran and bypassing Russia - it's now
going ballistic to prevent by all means the
crucial integration of Southwest Asia and South
Asia, from Iran's giant South Pars gas field to
Pakistan's Balochistan and Sindh provinces.
IP, it should be remembered, is the
original, $7 billion IPI; Iran-Pakistan-India,
also known as the "peace pipeline". India dropped
out in 2009 after non-stop harassment by the
George W Bush and then Barack Obama
administrations; India was offered access to
civilian nuclear technology.
its part, is still eyeing the possibility of
extending IP out of Gwadar port, then crossing to
Pakistan's north alongside the Karakoram Highway
all the way to Xinjiang. China is already helping
Islamabad to build civilian nuclear reactors - as
part of Pakistan's energy security policy.
ICBC, China's largest bank and the world's
number one lender, was already positioned as
financial adviser to IP. But then, contemplating
the (sanctions) writing on the wall, it started to
"show less interest", as Islamabad chose to spin
it. Is ICBC totally out? Not exactly. At least
according to the Pakistani Ministry of Petroleum's
spokesman, Irfan Ashraf Qazid; "ICBC is still
engaged in the IP project and the negotiations are
still going on."
A mega-bank such as ICBC,
with myriad global interests, may be wary of
defying the Washington sanction machine; but other
financing options may be found, as in other banks
or government-level agreements with China or
Russia. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani
Khar has just made it very clear. Pakistan badly
needs gas that should start flowing by December
Islamabad and Tehran have already
agreed on pricing. Iran's 900-km stretch of IP is
already built; Pakistan's is starting, via ILF
Engineering from Germany. Iran's IRNA agency said
Pakistan has announced that the IP is still on;
predictably, Western media spin is that the
Chinese got scared and backed out.
For Washington, the only way
to go is another Pipelineistan gambit - the
perennially troubled TAPI
assuming it will find financing; even assuming the
Taliban will be taking their cut (that was, in
fact, why negotiations between them and the Bill
Clinton then Bush administrations failed); and
even assuming it would not be bombed routinely by
mujahideen, TAPI would only be ready,
optimistically, by 2018. And Islamabad simply
can't wait that long. Predictably,
Washington's anti-IP campaign has been relentless
- including, of course, shadow war. Islamabad is
convinced that the CIA, the Indian intel agency
RAW, the Israeli Mossad and the British MI-6 have
been actively conspiring to get some sort of
Greater Balochistan to secede from the central
government. They have been, a la Libyan model,
financing and weaponizing selected Baloch
fighters. Not because they love their independent
spirit - but as a means to balkanize Pakistan.
To compound Washington's fury, "isolated"
Iran, by the way, is about to start exporting an
extra 80,000 barrels of oil a day to Pakistan; and
has already committed $250 million to the
Pakistani stretch of IP.
This has got the
potential of becoming much, much uglier.
Washington won't be deterred from its intent to
smash IP. For an Iran under pressure and a
strangled Pakistani economy - as well as China -
this is all about the Asian Energy Security Grid.
ICBC may be out - sort of. But the whole
thing could become even juicier if Beijing decides
to step in for good, and turn it from IP to IPC.
Will Washington have the guts to defy Beijing head