Balochistan: An ‘Excuse’ for India to Avoid IPI

Bringing peace in BalochistanBy: Sohail Parwaz

The narcissistic jealousy for others is not only a desire to ‘eat it neat and that too all alone’, but according to the ‘Dictionary of Heights’ it could be termed as the ‘height of selfishness’. Unfortunately our next door neighbor India is comfortably meeting this height, who is adding fuel to the Balochistan’s fire since many years. Agreed that the issue has some other compelling factors too nevertheless, the fact is that the Gawadar Port and the gas pipeline remain much valid reasons for Indian meddling in Balochistan’s affairs. What we are seeing today in Balochistan is less of a human rights issue and more of the Indo-Afghan interference, primarily for their vested interests and among those, as earlier said, IPI pipeline remain the main reason.

Somewhere in the early 2002, in one of my articles published in a leading national daily, I tried to expose the real Indian mind behind the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline’s practicability and future. I also indicated the possible motives for the Indian government’s lack of enthusiasm for this ‘Peace Pipeline’. However, during a very important and almost one of the concluding sessions held in Tehran from September 24 to September 26, 2007, when the Indians did not show up for gauche and gawky excuses, no one was left with any doubts about the ‘interests’ and the changed priorities of the Indians.

Why is there a controversy today about this pipeline? It should be known to all and sundry that which country was keener than others for this dream to turn into a reality. The Indian version justifies that the IPI gas pipeline was first mooted in 1989 by Dr. R.K Pachauri, Director General of TERI in India, and Dr. A.S Ardekani of Iran in 1989. Iran has the second largest gas reserves in the world. It made sense to supply gas to India, which was then gas-deficient and still is. According to Pakistan, which would be a transit state, Pakistan and Iran signed a preliminary agreement for the construction of a natural gas pipeline in 1995 linking the gas field in the Persian Gulf with Karachi, Pakistan’s main industrial port located on the Arabian Sea. Iran later proposed an extension of the pipeline from Pakistan to India. This pipeline, if implemented, will not only meet India’s growing energy demand to a great extent, but will also benefit Pakistan from Iranian natural gas exports as Pakistan’s territory will be used as a transit route. Unfortunately the US was never pleased to hear about this gigantic project. Ryan C Crocker during his posting as the US ambassador in Islamabad very openly once said while talking to the state-run TV that impeding the IPI gas pipeline was never in the US interest but it would be “going too far” to say that the US supported the IPI gas pipeline project if the US showed concern for Pakistan’s energy needs. This could be the starting point to understand the ‘impeding theory’, but to identify the real hurdles one has to read the Indian mind.

In fact, the main problem is that the Indians fear that Pakistan being a transit country, it could interfere and stop the flow of gas to India, as the relations between India and Pakistan seem to go up and down with the tide. However, its fear was rejected by one of their own Dr. R.K Batra who sometimes ago wrote in his article, ‘Gas without Borders’, that these Indian fears were notwithstanding the fact that the Indus Water Treaty between the two countries had operated smoothly to the extent that in the public domain there was hardly any discussion on it. It was the rocky relationship between the two countries, basically on Kashmir, that stymied any progress for the years to follow.

The history of India opposing the IPI is very interesting. Initially the idea was mainly opposed due to the historically traditional tense relations and rivalry for which the pipeline’s end country came with an alternate idea for the development of a deep sea pipeline where no threat to security of resources would exist. The Indian idea of laying a deep sea pipeline would compel India to spend about $ 10 billion. The Indians were ready to bear an extra cost of $ 6 billion, but not to let Pakistan earn about $ 700 million per annum, which the latter would have earned as a transit country.

The original idea is of a 2,700 kilometer (km) long IPI, a 44 inch pipeline that has to be laid from the Iranian coast city of Assaluyah, from where the gas from the South Pars field would be pumped 1,115 km across the Iranian terrain to the Pakistan border and another 760 km through Pakistan to the Indian border. The pipeline would link up with Pakistan’s own gas network, the Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited, as well as its southern counterpart (and that’s the most irritating point for the Indians) before entering India at a distance of 70 km short of the Indian border.

This ‘Peace Pipeline’ has a number of aspects that need to be emphasised, so first of all it has to be seen why India accepted this project. Basically, the Indians have a large number of economic interests in Indo-Iran bilateral trade. Thus it was not possible for them to say a blunt ‘no’ to the Iranians. It was about a couple of years back when Khatami was the Iranian President that during his visit to India, both the countries signed seven different agreements. Those agreements covered the fields of cooperation in science and technology, culture and water management and an invitation to the Indian investors to walk into the Iranian energy sector, but most important of all was the lucrative offer to use the new transport corridor from the Iranian port of Chahbahar to the Afghan town Delaram, which literally watered the Indian mouths. Keeping all this in mind, one can conveniently understand why it is so thorny for the Indians to simply move out of this pipeline deal with the Iranians.

The Indians invariably quotes the so-called security hazard or threat to the pipeline, as it would pass through Pakistan, as reason for delaying this deal. Not that the Indians did not know about its route previously, instead they never thought that it would materialise so soon, especially when they played every unethical game to strangulate this pipeline. Just to remind my readers, as far back as 2003, a few miles away from the Sui fields, a skirmish between the rival Mazari and Bugti clans took place. On the face of it, this seemed like a tribal feud. But within 24 hours, when the SSGPL’s (Sui Southern Gas Pipelines Limited ) pipeline near the PPL airfield was blown up with a direct rocket hit, it conveyed an altogether different message since it was nicely timed with the then Iranian President Khatami’s visit to India. The loud thinkers considered it an attempt to spoil the reconciliatory efforts for Pakistan-Russian relations; however, the real motive was something else. Whatever the case was, notwithstanding their desperate efforts, the Indians could not convince the Iranians about their hypothetical security concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan. After all, how could they tell them that their fear is in relation to making a mockery of the Sindh-Taas Agreement by them and controlling the five rivers originating from Kashmir, hence it would now be Pakistan’s turn to strangulate their lifeline if it turns vindictive (as the Indians thought it might). Hereafter a long term destabilizing plan was made to keep Balochistan restless, mainly for two reasons; to make the proposed IPI project a time barred thus a dropped venture and secondly not to let Pakistan benefit from the natural resources of its province.  Although the Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, during his visit to Afghanistan in August 2005, said at a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that, “We need both pipelines”, however, behind the closed doors India kept playing unethical games. Who else knows it better than Mr. Man Mohan whom former Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gillani provided irrefutable and tangible proofs about Indian hand in Balochistan?

Although the Iranians have probably understood the Indian delaying tactics and the motives behind it, nevertheless, it isn’t of any use anymore as to some extent the Indians have succeeded in keeping themselves off from the project finally. Nonetheless, on the other hand their snooping in Balochistan is still going on without realizing the consequences. It’s high time for the Indians to realize that every dog has a day. The Pakistan government and the armed forces may have to see a tough time for a while but at the end of the day they can see light at the end of the tunnel and the peace prevailing in the turbulent province.

The reluctant Indians very well know that whichever pipeline – IPI or TAPI – they might opt for; Pakistan in any case cannot be bypassed. It is high time for the Indians to admit this ‘bitter’ reality, shun all nefarious games and follow the basic rule of neighbourhood “live and let live”. They must listen to their experts who say that India is an energy-starved country and listen carefully to their Pakistani counterpart that a tempestuous Pakistan will never be in their interest. Peaceful Pakistan means a peaceful Subcontinent and that’s the bottom line. *****

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