Editor's Notes


The problem with Pakistan is energy-hungry China

lurking in the wings with pipeline know-how and aid

For several weeks now I've been promising myself to take the time to tap out a few words on Washington's problem with Islamabad, capital of Pakistan.

The question that dominates is why the U.S. tolerates Pakistan as if it were a cherished spoiled brat. Since 2001 Washington has paid Pakistan $8.9 billion from its Coalition Support funds. The money is meant to pay for the costs of maintaining Pakistani troops in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan.

Despite Pakistan's claim that it has 1,100 border check points the Taliban continue to trek back and forth with relatively moderate interference.

In recent days Washington has said it will withhold $800 million in payments to Islamabad.

Ahmad Mukhtar, Pakistan's defence minister, responded with a shrug in an interview with Express 24/7 a Pakistani news channel, "The next step is that the government or armed forces will remove these soldiers from the border."

The reason for the shrug is that while Pakistan is a near failed state, even though it is nuclear armed, it is convinced that it is well on the road to riches that will make it independent of American largess.

That money will come from natural gas and oil reserves, (albeit not in Pakistan), which is what all the fuss in that section of the world is all about, never mind claims of "humanitarian" purpose.

The oil and natural gas reserves are in Iran, which has already built a pipeline to the Pakistan border called Iran-Pakistan (IP). Before the end of this year Pakistan will begin working on its section of the pipeline. For a time it was known as the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline but India has so far failed to do more than sign an agreement in 2008 and stopped there.

More than 740 million cubic feet of gas per year will start flowing to Pakistan from Iran's giant South Pars field in the Persian Gulf by 2014. This is an immense development in the Pipelineistan "wars" in Eurasia. IP is a major node in the much-vaunted Asian Energy Security Grid — the progressive energy integration of Southwest, South, Central and East Asia that is the ultimate mantra for Eurasian players as diverse as Iran, China, India and the Central Asian "stans". 
Pakistan is an energy-poor, desperate customer of the grid. Becoming an energy transit country is Pakistan's once-in-a-lifetime chance to transition from a near-failed state into an "energy corridor" to Asia and, why not, global markets. 

And as pipelines function as an umbilical cord, the heart of the matter is that IP, and maybe IPI in the future, will do more than any form of US "aid" (or outright interference) to stabilize the Pakistan half of Obama's AfPak theater of operations, and even possibly relieve it of its India obsession. 

Washington for its part wants a "stable" Afghanistan led by a convenient puppet, Hamid Karzai-style — so the holy grail (since the mid-1990s) can be achieved; the construction of IP's rival, the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline, bypassing "evil" Iran. 

On the other hand, what Islamabad wants for Afghanistan is the Taliban back in power - just like the good old days of 1996-2001. That's the opposite of what Washington wants; a long-range occupation, preferably via NATO, so the alliance may protect the TAPI pipeline, if it ever gets built.

Moreover, for Washington "losing" Afghanistan and its key network of military bases so close to both China and Russia is simply unthinkable — according to the Pentagon's full-spectrum dominance doctrine. 

What's going on at the moment is a complex war of positioning. Pakistan's Afghan policy — which also implies containing Indian influence in Afghanistan —won't change.

The Afghan Taliban will keep being encouraged as potential long-term allies — in the name of the unalterable "strategic depth" doctrine — and India will keep being regarded as the top strategic priority. 

What IP will do is to embolden Islamabad even more — with Pakistan finally becoming a key transit corridor for Iranian gas, apart from using gas for its own needs.

If India finally decides against IPI, China is ready to step on board — and build an extension from IP, parallel to the Karakoram highway, toward Xinjiang. Either way, Pakistan wins — especially with increasing Chinese investment. Or with further Chinese military "aid". That's why the Pakistani army's "suspension" by Washington is not bound to rattle too many nerves in Islamabad. 

For more on this please click here.

Meanwhile, take it easy, but take it.

Looking forward

Carl Dow
Editor and Publisher
True North Perspective

Add new comment