Rethinking U.S. opposition to Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline

October 3, 2008

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi in April/B MathurAmong the more daring recommendations in a new report by the Pakistan Policy Working Group, a bipartisan group of American experts on U.S.-Pakistan relations, is that the United States should eventually reconsider its opposition to a proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project.

The suggestion, aimed at building peace between India and Pakistan, is well hedged. The report says it does not expect the long-delayed project to happen any time soon because of instability in Pakistan and U.S. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. But it is one that could ultimately be very significant not just for Pakistan, but also for Iran and India. As this Reuters story says, Iran sees energy-hungry India as one of the most promising markets for its huge natural gas reserves.

The report argues that U.S. pressure on Pakistan to end support for the Taliban in Afghanistan must be combined with diplomatic efforts to build peace and economic ties across the region so that Pakistan stops feeling its security is threatened. The long-term aim, it says, would be to ensure that Pakistan no longer sees a need to use Islamist militants as proxies against its much bigger neighbour, India.

India has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring militants fighting in Kashmir and of backing the Taliban to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan. Although Pakistan denies this, the view is gaining currency in the United States, but with the caveat that only by reducing tensions between Pakistan and India can Pakistan be persuaded to drop its dependence on militants. “The U.S. should seek to adjust Pakistan’s cost-benefit calculus of using militants in its foreign policy,” the report says.

File photo of facilities at Iran’s South Pars gas field“To encourage better ties and more robust economic linkages between India and Pakistan, the U.S. should eventually reconsider its opposition to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project,” it says. “Assuming that the situation in Pakistan stabilises, and the U.S. determines that the IPI would not undermine international efforts to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, the pipeline could help to stabilise the region over the longer term by providing Pakistan and India with a mutual economic interest.”

Do read the whole report (The Council on Foreign Relations provides a link to the PDF document here). It is remarkable for its candour about Pakistan’s complex relationship with Islamist militants. But it is also impressive in its reach in the way it ties Pakistan’s fate to the policies of other players in the region — for example it calls for a National Intelligence Estimate on Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan and an “in-depth assessment of the activities of other regional actors in Afghanistan such as Russia, Iran and India”.

Is this a sign of things to come, heralding a much more sophisticated approach to U.S. foreign policy? And after years of oil and gas being seen as a cause for war, can they also become a reason for peace?


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do you think that india will drop the project if US pressure on india continues? surely india is delaying it. but i think that is to get the N-deal. and not to drop it altogether.

Posted by unknown indian | Report as abusive

Good question.

Alastair Scrutton, Reuters Chief Correspondent in Delhi, has addressed this in an analysis of the nuclear deal, saying those hoping that India will now fall into line with western policy will be disappointed. You can find his analysis here: dUSTRE4912CP20081002?sp=true

He quotes Brahma Chellaney as saying that India will be reluctant to get sucked into U.S. efforts to isolate Iran.

“Now the (nuclear) deal has been sealed, India will have to mend ties with Iran,” Chellaney said. “For India’s strategy, to give up Iran would be a very difficult proposition … There is no way India can pursue an effective Afghan, Central Asian policy without Iran.”

Posted by Myra MacDonald | Report as abusive

Indeed the IPI could be a very effective way to bring about peace in this region. The difficulty is that it is Islamic tenet of killing non-believers (for a visa to paradise) that keeps them going. This tenet is the crucial difference between the Islamic world and the rest. It is taught in Madarassas and common muslims believe it strongly. It is not a matter of economy or modern education!!

Posted by Kamal | Report as abusive

sorry for being insisting. but that is scrutton’s and chellney’s analysis. what is your personal opinion? you are a journalist of repute and talked with people from administration and military. what is your personal take?
thanks a lot for the article.

Posted by unknown indian | Report as abusive

My sense is that the I-P-I gas pipeline will be built with or without the US blessing. The reason is simple: Both India and Pakistan are energy-hungry and Iran is the closet source of abundant gas for South Asia. It is in their own best national interest to defy the U.S. on this particular issue.
The only thing that is likely to delay it significantly is the deep distrust between India and Pakistan where U.S. can and must play a role regardless of the I-P-I project. It is in U.S.’s best interest to do so for its own economic and strategic interests in South Asia.

Posted by Riaz Haq | Report as abusive

India will do same as she has done in the past, take whatever it can from anybody will to give and do what is right for her. Pakistan on the other hand, will try to get what it wants and do things for other at very high cost. Pakistan must follow a similar policy like Indian and think about its own interest rather than the west.

Posted by Denali | Report as abusive

this pipeline will never be built as long as PNAC is running american foreign policy.

israeli american false flags in pakistan and india will continue to generate hostility between india and pakistan, and the long range plan includes decapitating pakistan, giving northern pakistan to the israeli americans’ puppets in afghanistan, thus eliminating pakistans’ shared border with china and eliminating the possibility of china getting some of iran’s gas.

the key to the whole south asia situation, from the PNAC standpoint, is dismantling pakistan.

given the threats posed to israel by peak oil and sea level rise —seeing as how this is the last chance to secure israel before israel’s proxy american armies run out of gas— and given the neocons’ devotion to israel, there’s gonna be no peace and no pipeline so long as the israelis and israeli americans have so much juice… and of course, the israelis have a long history of false flags, they have nukes and they are terminally desperate.

google images: peters’ new map middle east

Posted by wadosy | Report as abusive

The Iranians think we are stupid to invest in a pipeline running thru Pakistan– Build the pipeline & get it to our doorsteps, charge extra for the gas & we shall pay–US deal or no US deal who cares.

India is pursuing an effective Afghan, Central Asian policy ‘with’ Iran,solely, by building the Road to connect Afghanistan with Iran, ‘with’ tactical support from NATO,thus ending Pakistan’s stranglehold on Afghanistan…

Posted by Indian | Report as abusive

we just found mega massive reserves of gas in the KG basin.Equivalent of 500,000 barrels/day oil equivalent with another massive field to start production in 3 years.bottom line we are gas surplus and don’t need to import gas which we thought we did at the begining of the project.

Posted by Shantanu Chatterjee | Report as abusive

if you are gas surplus, then you can you abandon your investment in the farsi block in iran, and you can use gas to generate electricity and abandon your plans for american-supported nuke plants.

oh, happy day.

meanwhile, most of us recognize that the american nuke deal was a bribe… a very powerful faction of indian politicians and industrialists has signed onto the israel/israeli american PNAC project, hoping the israeli and israeli american neocons survive long enough to succeed in dismantling your rival, pakistan.

…not to mention your hopes that the neocons will help you defend yourselves economically from china by limiting china’s access to energy.

Posted by wadosy | Report as abusive

[…] The US is clearly opposed to it. How will India respond to the US pressure? Alastair Scrutton, Reuters Chief Correspondent in Delhi, has addressed this in an analysis of the nuclear deal, saying those […]

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