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The New Great Game: War of Pipelines

Published: December 13, 2012
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Source: News Pk

US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson’s statement on December 10 against the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline (IP) was not a mere reiteration of the economic interests of the United States and its allies; it has serious political connotations, in an area that has always been the battlefield in the Great Game. The expression of concern by Olson came just two days after President Asif Ali Zardari skipped his scheduled visit to Tehran to finalise the project with his Iranian counterpart. The US has been opposing the pipeline since its inception and favouring the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi).

The IP, a $1.2 billion project, has been lingering since 1995 when a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between Iran and Pakistan. The Iran-Pakistan Working Group was formed in 2003 to move the project forward. Islamabad told Tehran that in case India was unwilling to join in, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline would be pursued as an independent project. But in 2005, a memorandum of understanding was signed to include India. In 2007, India and Pakistan provisionally agreed to pay Iran $4.93 per million British thermal units, but India subsequently withdrew from the deal, ostensibly over concerns about the price and security but in fact due to opposition from the US. Under the accord signed in June 2010, Iran was to provide about 21.5 million cubic metres of gas a day to Pakistan for 25 years. The deal is extendable by five years and volumes can rise to 30 million cubic metres a day. The project is now in doldrums.

The projected 1,680-kilometre Tapi gas pipeline is backed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It has the 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.

After India’s withdrawal from the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, China showed interest in it. In October 2011 Dr Asim Hussain said, “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 US, which has been pleading the case for Tapi since the 1990s. Tapi was initially designed to provide Turkmen gas to Pakistan through Afghanistan. In April 2008, India was also invited to join in. Pakistan’s cabinet gave approval to the Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement (GPFA) for Tapi in its meeting on October 27, 2010. On November 13, 2011, Pakistan and Turkmenistan initiated the Gas Sales and Purchase Agreement (GSPA), which is likely to make the multi-nation project operational by 2016.

From the very beginning, the US and its allies wanted Pakistan to abandon the project with Iran, which wants to diversify gas sales to Asian markets. Tehran’s projection of IP as a “peace pipeline” has the support of Russia and China. While regional powers desire to find a stable, reliable source of gas supplies, America and allies want to destabilise the entire region using militancy as a tool. The tussle over the Iran-Pakistan gas project and Tapi is not a mere economic battle but has far-reaching geopolitical dimensions.

It is a matter of record that the US and its Nato allies had decided to invade Afghanistan much before 9/11. The decision to this effect was taken in Berlin during the joint meeting of the council of ministers held in November 2000 in the wake of apprehensions regarding Tapi, in which powerful corporate entities, which actually rule the US and other capitalist countries, had financial interests. George W Bush appointed Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, former aide to the American oil company Unocal, 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 those of the Persian Gulf. During the Bush government the state department was exploring the potential for post-Taliban energy projects in the region, having more than six percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and almost 40 percent of its gas reserves. On December 15, 2001, in an article titled ‘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 within the following decade.

As an advisor for Unocal, Khalilzad drew up the 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 Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and Tapi are symbols of the New Great Game – the main goal of which is gaining control of oil and gas reserves in this region. As Frank Viviano wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 26, 2001: ‘’The hidden stakes in the war against terrorism can be summed up in a single word: oil/gas. 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 inevitable that the war against terrorism will be 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.’’

This is the ugly reality of the ongoing war over gas pipelines in our region – US and its allies want to grab oil and gas resources for their economic interests benefiting huge multinational corporations in which the western ruling elites have substantial interest. In an article in Global Research, ‘Balochistan: Crossroads of Proxy War,’ Eric Draitser wrote on July 1: “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 (Tapi) 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 destabilise it.”

The writers are adjunct professors at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Emails: huzaima@huzaimaikram. com, ikram@huzaimaikram.com



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