Pipe Dream

For the first time after the recently concluded Saarc summit, India and Pakistan have decided to hold formal discussions on the onshore natural gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan. [The Financial Express]

It is a good idea to build a pipeline to bring Iranian natural gas into the energy hungry Indian market. It will benefit Pakistan as it will both support its energy requirements as well as become a source of revenue coming from transit fees. While I do not think it will be in the Pakistani government’s interests to disrupt this pipeline during normal conditions, its ability to secure the route will remain in question. Even its own national pipelines connecting the Sui gas fields in Balochistan to the rest of the country (mainly Punjab province) are often subject to outages caused by rockets fired by ‘fueding’ tribesmen. Today the Pakistani government assures the security of the gas pipelines not by institutional law and order mechanisms, but by an elaborate system of distribution of spoils. Every now and then this system breaks down and the Bugtis, Mazaris and Murrees take potshots at the pipeline.

During not so normal conditions, Pakistan is sure to use the pipeline as a bargaining chip to coerce India; it is this feature that attracts so many Pakistani corners to support the venture (and equally causes so many Indian corners to oppose it). What is to stop Pakistan from throttling the pipeline to coerce India to let more water flow down the Indus? It is not certain that Pakistan as a whole prefers economic stability to its anti India agenda and until that time. Even then, a pipeline that supplies an essential commodity to India will remain victim to the tenor of Pakistan’s bilateral relations with India, and to a lesser extent, with Iran.

I feel its a good idea to engage Pakistan on the pipeline, but extremely foolish to build any amount of reliance on it.