The great game

Western World’s opposition to Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline is seen as a reiteration of its economic interests and geopolitical hegemonic designs in the region

By Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

In the face of threats of sanctions from the United States, President Asif Ali Zardari and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on March 11, 2013 launched the groundbreaking work on the 781-kilometre-long pipeline on the Pakistani side of the border. The Iran-Pakistan (IP) Gas Pipeline Project, initialed in 1995, has been facing perpetual opposition from the United States and its allies. Heads of both the countries, in their speeches at the occasion, reaffirmed their commitment to go ahead with the project “despite threats from the world powers”.

President Zardari said that the project would promote peace, security and progress in the region besides improving economic, political and security ties between the two neighbouring states. Stressing that the project was not against any country, President Zardari said such steps forging better understanding would also help fight terrorism and extremism.

President Ahmadinejad, while pointing towards foreign states and criticising what he called “their unjustified opposition to the project under the excuse of Iran’s nuclear issue”, said: “They are against Iran and Pakistan’s progress and have used the nuclear issue as an excuse”. He added, “We never expected [Western] companies to make an investment in this pipeline which guarantees progress, prosperity and peace in the region; if they don’t want to join this project for any given reason, they are not entitled to rock the boat and disturb the project”.

Pakistan on the completion of IP is to receive 21.5 million cubic meters of natural gas on daily basis. Faced with extraordinary energy crisis, Pakistan needs natural gas badly — its shortage has caused miseries to millions of Pakistanis and closure of industries. Iran has already constructed more than 900 kilometres of the pipeline on its side. The Tehran-based Tadbir energy development group has undertaken all the engineering procurement and construction work for the first segment of the project. It will also carry out the second segment of the project and also extend the financing of $500 million to Pakistan. Iran and Pakistani are optimistic to complete the project by December 2014.

The United States was quick to reiterate its serious reservations as Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for State Department, said: “We have serious concerns, if this project actually goes forward, that the Iran Sanctions Act would be triggered.” Nuland added: “We’ve heard this pipeline announced about 10 or 15 times before in the past. So we have to see what actually happens.”

Dubbing Pakistan’s move “in the wrong direction”, the US claims that it came on the wrong time “when we are supporting large-scale energy projects in Pakistan — plan to add some 900 megawatts by the end of 2013 and further generation through renovating plants at Tarbela and Mangla, as well as modernising others plants and building new dams at Satpara and Gomal Zam.”

The United States opposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas project since its inception and successfully wooed India to pull out of it through the civil nuclear deal. After India’s exit, Iran and Pakistan renamed the project as IP and signed an accord in June 2010 to continue with it. The government of Pakistan said in October 2011 that “our dependence on Pak-Iran pipeline is very high and there is no other substitute at present to meet the growing demand of the energy.” This statement irritated the Unites States, which has been pleading and promoting the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project.

TAPI, a 1,680-kilometer long gas pipeline project, is backed by the Asian Development Bank (ADP) having potential to bring 3.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (bcfd) from Turkmenistan’s gas fields passing near the cities of Herat and Kandahar, crossing into Pakistan near Quetta and linking with existing pipelines at Multan. Its original cost of $3.3bn was later raised to $7.6 billion.

TAPI was initially designed to provide gas to Pakistan through Afghanistan. In April 2008, India also joined and recently Bangladesh has also expressed interest to join. Pakistan’s cabinet approved the Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement (GPFA) for TAPI on October 27, 2010. On November 13, 2011, Pakistan and Turkmenistan initiated the Gas Sales and Purchase Agreement (GSPA). This multi-nation project is expected to be operational by 2016.

The US and its allies want Pakistan to abdicate IP and pursue only TAPI. This is not only unacceptable to Pakistan and Iran, but China and Russia have also serious apprehensions about the designs of the US and its allies in this region. The giant Western companies enjoying main financial control over Turkmenistan gas reserves want monopoly over the markets. However, the tussle over IP and TAPI is not a mere economic battle but have geopolitical dimensions as well. It is a matter of record that much before 9/11, the US and its allies decided to invade Afghanistan. The decision to this effect was taken in Berlin during the joint meeting of Council of Ministers held in November 2000 in the wake of apprehensions regarding TAPI in which powerful corporate entities, who actually rule the US and other capitalist countries, had financial interests.

George W. Bush appointed former aide to the American oil company UNOCAL, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, as special envoy to Afghanistan nine days after the US-backed interim government of Hamid Karzai took office in Kabul. This appointment underscored the real economic and financial interests at stake in the US military intervention in Central Asia.

Khalilzad was intimately involved in the long-running US efforts to obtain direct access to the oil and gas resources of the region, largely unexploited but believed to be the second largest in the world after the Persian Gulf. The State Department was exploring the potential for post-Taliban energy projects in the region during the Bush government, having more than 6 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves and almost 40 per cent of its gas reserves.

On December 15, 2001, in an article headlined, ‘As the War Shifts Alliances, Oil Deals Follow’, the New York Times reported that during a visit in early December to this region, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he was particularly impressed with the money that American oil companies were investing there. He estimated that $200 billion could flow into this region during the next 5 to 10 years.

As an advisor for UNOCAL, Khalilzad drew up a risk analysis of a proposed gas pipeline from the former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. He participated in talks between UNOCAL and Taliban officials in 1997, which were aimed at implementing a 1995 agreement to build the pipeline across western Afghanistan. UNOCAL was the lead company in the formation of the Centgas consortium behind TAPI.

The main goal behind TAPI is gaining control of oil and gas reserves in this region, which is hidden behind the so-called ‘war on terror’. The map of terrorist sanctuaries and targets in the Middle East and Central Asia is also, to an extraordinary degree, a map of the world’s principal energy sources in the 21st century. “It is not surprising if the war on terror (sic) is seen by many as a war on behalf of America’s Chevron, Exxon, and Arco; France’s TotalFinaElf; British Petroleum; Royal Dutch Shell and other multinational giants, which have hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the region” — Frank Viviano, San Francisco Chronicle, September 26, 2001.

Pursuing of IP by Iran and Pakistan would certainly be a serious blow to the US and its allies as they want to grab oil and gas resources of this region benefiting multinational corporations that finance the Western ruling elites. At the same time, it should not be overlooked that “China’s insatiable thirst for oil and gas makes the development of pipelines from Central Asia, Iran, and elsewhere invaluable to them. The Iran-Pakistan pipeline, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, and other projects all serve to increase the importance of Balochistan in the eyes of the Chinese.

Additionally, the Chinese-funded, Pakistani Gwadar Port is the access point for Chinese commercial shipping to the Indian Ocean and on to Africa. With all of this as a backdrop, one can begin to see just why Balochistan is so significant to the Chinese and, conversely, why the United States and its Western puppets seek to destabilize it”—‘Balochistan: Crossroads of Proxy War’ by Eric Draitser.

The opposition to IP by Western World using the bogey of ‘nuclear Iran’ is reiteration of their economic interests and geopolitical hegemonic designs in the region that has always been the battlefield of the Great Game. James Petras, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the State University of New York, and Dr. Henry Veltmeyer in their book ‘Globalization unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century’ have remarkably exposed the tactics of imperialists in the 21st century. They argue that “globalization is propagated not to bring a better and more just world to the masses of the people but, as has always been the case with imperialism, to advance the interests of those who already enjoy power and privilege”.

The anodyne rhetoric of ‘globalization,’ ‘markets,’ ‘democracy,’ and other pleasant and apparently neutral terms, conceals realities that are far better understood within the framework of imperialism and class conflict. Opposition to IP should be seen from this perspective — it is Great Game of Pipelines where the imperialist powers want to usurp the resources of natives.

The writers are members of Adjunct Faculty of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

Courtesy: The News

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