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Monday April 15, 2024

Pipeline for peace

It was in mid-nineties when first woman PM of Pakistan, Mohtarma Benazir, initiated gas pipeline project with Iran in 1995 during her tenure-

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
March 01, 2024
Iranian workers are seen working on the Pak-Iran gas pipeline project. — AFP/File
Iranian workers are seen working on the Pak-Iran gas pipeline project. — AFP/File

Pakistan has taken a vital decision regarding the Iran-Pakistan Gas pipeline project, which has been stalled for decades. According to media reports, the caretaker federal cabinet committee has approved the laying of an 81-kilometer gas pipeline, from the Iranian border to Gwadar, with an ambitious deadline to complete it within a year.

It was in the mid-nineties when the first woman prime minister of Pakistan, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, initiated the gas pipeline project with Iran in 1995 during her tenure. Also known as the Peace Pipeline, it was supposed to reach the coastal city of Karachi in Pakistan and then move towards India, as per the initial original plan.

Unfortunately, this megaproject could not go smoothly due to the US sanctions on Iran and security concerns from India. After signing the civil nuclear deal with the US in 2008, India distanced itself from the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. On the other hand, it became increasingly difficult for Pakistan to manage the diplomatic pressure from the US.

After the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari assumed the responsibilities as the President of Pakistan. To fulfill the dream of his great martyr spouse Benazir, he made more than eight visits to Iran during his tenure. At that time, Iran was facing severe international pressure, American sanctions had been imposed on Iran, and India had also shown no interest in completing this project. Undoubtedly, it was not easy to cooperate with Iran in such circumstances.

However, Zardari, in the best national interests of Pakistan, made a historical visit to the Iranian city of Chabahar, where he surprised everyone by performing the groundbreaking of the long-awaited gas pipeline in the presence of his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in March 2013. A clear message was sent at the international level that Pakistan, under the PPP government, would never accept foreign influence and there would be no compromise on people's welfare projects.

It was agreed that a daily supply of 750 million cubic feet of gas would be started by January 2015 to overcome the energy crisis, and if Pakistan fails to lay the gas pipeline in its territory by the end of 2014, a fine of one million dollars per day must be paid to Iran.

The project, which was supposed to be operational in January 2015, has not been completed even after nine years. On the other hand, Iran has completed construction of its part of the pipeline within the timeline, and India is now openly expressing its interest in considering alternative undersea routes for the transportation of natural gas directly.

On March 25, 2022 I had written in these pages that as president Mr Zardari was well aware that this gas pipeline is very essential for our leading geo-strategic role in the region. According to him, the supply of Iranian gas through Pakistan will increase the dependence on our country which will be beneficial in maintaining peace, stability and balance of power in the region.

This is why I had emphasized that “the success of the peace pipeline is now wholly dependent on the visionary leadership of Asif Ali Zardari to come to power to end the ongoing energy crisis and bring peace in the region.”

I am quite confident that Zardari, after becoming the president of Pakistan, will once again surprise everyone and play a pivotal role in completing the Peace Pipeline, which is a game changer for the entire region, according to Benazir Shaheed’s vision. Otherwise, our geo-strategic position will be very much disturbed if India and Iran succeed in finding any alternate route bypassing Pakistan.


The writer is a former member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council. He tweets/posts @RVankwani