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Pakistan Proceeds with Controversial Pipeline to Iran

Despite stiff resistance from the U.S., Pakistan has decided to build a controversial pipeline to Iran to import natural gas, according to a Pakistani diplomat interviewed by the Financial Times:

“A decision has been made that we can’t delay this project for any longer. This is Pakistan’s essential lifeline. We are going ahead with this project,” the official told the Financial Times on Thursday. . . .

The plan would see Pakistan build a pipeline connecting its national gas supply grid in the southern Sindh province to the Iranian border in southwest Baluchistan. Iranian officials say they have already built the pipeline on their side of the border to within 100km of Pakistan.

Pakistan desperately needs access to reliable sources of energy. Chronic electricity shortages have caused violent protests and continue to destabilize the country’s economy and politics. Neighboring Iran has long been the closest source of cheap natural gas.

But because of various difficulties and strong opposition from the U.S., Pakistan has yet to formally commit to the pipeline project. Independent economists still aren’t sure if the project will go ahead. Meanwhile, the Saudis, who have invested heavily in Pakistan, don’t like the idea of closer ties between the two countries.

The U.S. would prefer to see Pakistan pursue the proposed TAPI pipeline from Tajikistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, a project with its own obvious and difficult obstacles. 

Will the prospect of a Pakistan stabilized by reliable access to energy trump objections from Washington and Riyadh in the end? Will Washington give it a quiet green light because it is relying on Pakistan’s help to withdraw from Afghanistan? Either way, this pipeline will have far-reaching geopolitical consequences.

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