By Sajjad Shaukat
By rejecting US growing pressure and defying the threat of sanctions, on March 11, this year, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari inaugurated the much-delayed section of a $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
President Ahmadinejad hailed that work on the pipeline project was going ahead despite US-led international sanctions against Iran. Hinting towards the US, he accused “foreign elements” of undermining Iran’s relations with Pakistan and to thwart its progress by using its nuclear programme as a pretext. In his address, President Zardari regarded the pipeline project as very important for Pakistan, adding that the prosperity of Pakistan and Iran was inter-linked and that the former was striving to become self-reliant.
Iran has completed 900 km of pipeline on its side of the border and Iranian contractors will also construct the pipeline in Pakistan. In this regard, Tehran has also agreed to lend Islamabad 500 million dollars—cost of the 750 km Pakistani section of the pipeline.
The project has faced delays since it was conceived in 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to India via Pakistan. Due to its pro-American tilt, India did not sign this gas pipeline project. Therefore, Islamabad and Tehran continued talks on the project.
Pak-Iranian ties have rapidly been strengthening day by day. During the visit of Iran’s Vice President for International Affairs Ali Seedlou, both the countries signed three agreements on November 13, last year as part of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) to promote economic cooperation, timely completion of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and electricity import from Iran. Both the sides agreed to increase bilateral trade to $5 billion marks. For the purpose, in the recent past, Iranian President Ahmadinejad had also visited Pakistan.
In the third trilateral summit at Islamabad, on February 17, 2012, President Zardari, President Ahmadinejad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai put their heads together to forge regional cooperation in multifaceted areas. They pledged to eradicate terrorism and militancy from the region. In response to Karzai’s blame game regarding cross-border terrorism, Zardari had clarified, “I deny this notion that any of our armed forces are directly or indirectly involved.” He stated, without naming America, “Who was the owner and financer of former chief of Tehreek-e-Talban Pakistan Baitulllah Mahsood.”
Zardari vowed to fight US pressure on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, saying that the “external forces can not undermine bilateral relations.” Notably, Pakistan also assured to support Tehran, if the US or Israel launches a military attack on Iran. While hinting towards the US, the Iranian president revealed that the problem in the region had no local roots, but it was imposed from external fronts. In fact, Pakistan and Iran are quite sincere about regional cooperation among the three countries including stability in Afghanistan, but Hamid Karzai has been implementing American secret diplomacy in the region.
However, despite American several warnings to abandon this gas project, Pakistani government continued talks with Tehran.
Under the project, initially, 21.5 million cubic meters of gas will be supplied to Pakistan, which will produce 4,000 M.W electricity, urgently needed to energies its homes and industries. The project will bring economic prosperity, providing better opportunities to the people of the country.
In fact, America neither seeks to see prosperity in Pakistan nor wants to see stability in the country including Iran. Washington is also against Pak-Iranian close relationship.
Notably, on January 5, 2012, US President Obama unveiled a new defence strategy which calls for greater US military presence in Asia. Nevertheless, US new defence strategy is part of Indo-US hidden agenda in Afghanistan against Pakistan and Iran. First of all US seeks to protect the puppet regime of Karzai and Indian influence in Afghanistan under the umbrella of its military presence, after the withdrawal of NATO troops. India which has already invested billion of dollars in Afghanistan, signed a strategic partnership agreement with that country on October 5, 2011, wants to further fortify its grip there to get strategic depth against Islamabad, while US bases in Afghanistan and the Gulf will enhance its ability to gather intelligence on Iran. In December, 2011, Iranian authorities recovered a CIA surveillance drone that had been launched from Afghanistan.
While playing double game with Islamabad, sometimes, US top officials praise Pak sacrifices regarding war on terror, sometimes, admits that stability cannot be achieved in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops, sometimes, realises that US wants to work to put its relationship with Pakistan on a stronger footing, but at the same time, it blames Islamabad for safe-havens of militants and cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Especially, US has been supporting cross-border infiltration in Pakistan with the assistance of American CIA, Indian intelligence agency, RAW and Israeli secret agency, Mossad which have well-established their network in Afghanistan to ‘denuclearise’ Pakistan. For this purpose highly trained militants, equipped with sophisticated weapons are being sent to Pakistan, who are regularly conducting subversive acts and sectarian violence in various regions of the country.
Particularly, Balochistan’s mineral resources and geo-strategic location with Gwadar seaport, connecting rest of the world with Central Asia have further irked the eyes of the US and India because China has already invested billion of dollars to develop this seaport. Besides, CIA, RAW and Mossad have perennial been backing bomb blasts, suicide attacks, abductions, target killings, ethnic and sectarian violence in Balochistan through their affiliated militant groups such as Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Jundollah (God’s soldiers), and Baloch feudal lords (Sardars) in order to fulfill their cover agenda so as to dismember Pakistan and Iran.
Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik repeatedly disclosed that he had proof about training camps being run in Afghanistan, and supply of arms and ammunition from Afghanistan to Balochistan. Recently, he revealed that there are links among BLA, Jundollah and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Tehreek-e-Taliban which have been destablising Pakistan.
BLA and Jundollah are also working against the cordial relationship of Pakistan with Iran. In the past few years, their militants kidnapped and killed many Iranian nationals in Pakistan. Jundullah conducted several subversive acts in the Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan. Especially, Tehran has repeatedly pointed out US and CIA for patronage and funding of those terrorist attacks.
In this context, the former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi had stated, “It is obvious that the same forces which are working in Pakistani Balochistan are also working in Iranian Sistan.” While, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had indicated, “The bloody actions being committed in Iraq, Pakistan and Iran are aimed at creating a division between the Shias and Sunnis…those who carry out these terrorist actions are directly or indirectly foreign agents.”
Pak-US war of nerves which started in the recent years, accelerated due to American coercive diplomacy towards Islamabad. In this regard, when the US-led NATO forces felt that they are failing in coping with the stiff resistance of the Taliban, they started false allegations against Pak Army and country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of supporting the Afghan Taliban—especially American top officials continuously emphasised Islamabad to ‘do more’ against the insurgents. Differences increased between them because ISI thwarted the anti-Pakistan activities of the US Blackwater and CIA agents. On this agency’s information, Pakistani rulers expelled several American spies operating in the country.
Since May 2, 2011, Pak-US relations further deteriorated when without informing Islamabad, US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden in a covert military operation. And in the aftermath of the deliberate air attack on Salala Army outposts on November 26, 2011 in Mohmand Agency, which killed 26 soldiers, Pakistan’s bold steps such as vacation of the Shamsi Airbase and boycott of the second Bonn Conference, closure of NATO ground supply routes through its territory to Afghanistan for several months show that Islamabad has already started rejecting US power diplomacy.
Moreover, by setting aside the parliament resolution, the trip of DG ISI Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam to America, protest-rallies of Pakistan’s political and religious parties, ignoring the Pak-US new rapprochement, CIA-operated drone attacks have kept on going on FATA.
Consequently, Pakistan has rejected US pressure owing to latter’s duplicity; while it has further strengthened Pak-Iranian cooperation by implementing the gas pipeline project.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations