With the current power predicament, and the relentless bursts of load shedding, there is a dire need to enhance our repertoire to meet the growing energy requirements. Both industry and indeed the masses are bearing the brunt of the dearth of electricity on a daily basis, and hence, the clamour to ameliorate matters has been growing more vociferous day by day. Amidst such state of affairs, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline promises to be a knight in shining armor, as far as the prospect of bolstering our gas shortage is concerned. Initially, India was very much a part of the project, but our eastern neighbours have absconded; citing security related concerns. The pipeline has been a massive undertaking, and with its initiation a long way down the memory lane, the project has come a long way. And after various brands of antagonisms, it seems to be on the brink of completion.
Pakistani civil engineer, Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan, conjured up the idea to reinforce Pakistan’s gas reserves and gave a design proposal of the potential project. In his article titled “Persian Pipeline” published in mid 1950s by the Military College of Risalpur, Aftab Ahmed highlighted the blueprint of the entire proposal and also outlined the means for its protection. The need for it to be protected arose because the drafted out pathway overlapped with many antagonistic regions, that were hell bent upon ensuring that the project was not initiated. Aftab Ahmed suggested small battalion-size cantonments should be set up along the pipeline’s proposed route through Baluchistan and Sind, which would keep the hostility in check.
While Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan’s idea was constructively intriguing, it did have its creases that needed to be ironed out. Hence after being intermittently shelved, the groundbreaking idea was conceptualised in 1989 by Rajendra K Pachauri along with Ali Shams Ardekani, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran. The concept of an Iran-Pakistan pipeline was further extended to include India, and this mammoth project was being touted as the ‘Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline’ – IPI pipeline or the Peace pipeline. Dr Pachauri expounded the design to both the Iranian and the Indian governments and received a positive riposte from the Iranian hierarchy. During the annual conference of IAEE (International Association of Energy Economics) in 1990 Dr Ardekani also backed the idea.
The South Pars field is the origin of this historical pipeline project and the proposed length of the pipeline is 2,775 kilometers. Starting off from Asalouyeh in Bushehr province in Iran, 1,172 kilometers of the aforementioned 2,775 kilometers of the pipeline (around 42 per cent) extends within the domain of Iran. From Asalouyeh the route is traced towards Iranshahr; the distance covered in this segment is 902 kilometers. From Iranshahr to the Iran-Pakistan border, the pipeline runs for a further 270 kilometers before it enters Pakistan. After entering Pakistan, the pipeline’s proposed path is via Baluchistan into Sindh and Punjab. From Khuzdar, there would be a tributary en route to Karachi and the main pipeline would progress till Multan. From Multan, the pipeline can be extended to Dehli. Nonetheless, if China were to show interest in the project, the route could be modified accordingly to accommodate the South-East Asian giant. Owing to concerns regarding Baluchi insurgents, an alternative pathway from Iran to the maritime boundary between India and Pakistan off Kutch has also been proposed. If this idea is to be pursued, one branch would then run into Pakistan, while another one would branch off to Kutch.
The Iran-Pakistan pipeline project promises to bear enough fruits to drag Pakistan out of the current energy quagmire. The initial capacity of the project was touted as 22 billion cubic meters of natural gas per annum, which was going to gradually evolve towards 55 billion cubic meters per year. Nevertheless, after the project has been restricted to the stature of a bilateral matter between Pakistan and Iran, the numbers being prognosticated are 8.7 billion cubic meters of annual gas supply as the contracted numbers, and up to 40 billion cubic meters of maximum gas supply has been promised. The radius of the pipeline is 28 inches, making its diameter 56 inches and circumference approximately, 176 inches. The cost surrounding the project is said to be $7.5 billion. And while it is clear that the pipeline alone cannot act as our saviour and we would have to explore our reserves as well, it is unambiguous that it would go a long way in aiding our cause.
Deliberations over the pipeline project between Iran and Pakistan began in 1994, which was followed by the preliminary agreement in 1995. It was decided that the pipeline was going to trace its starting point in the South Pars gas field and would run all the way to Karachi. As further plans unravelled under the political hangover, Iran further proposed to extend the pipeline to India and hence in February 1999, the initial agreement was signed between Iran and India. With Iran, Pakistan and India being an enigmatic triangle of prospect, cooperation, scepticism and tension, the pipeline has been a ropy affair going to and fro and fluctuating in synchrony with the political turmoil that epitomises the region. Such a trend was at its apogee as the world moved into the new millennium.
Post 9/11, when American influence was reigning supreme in the region, the project was duly affected. United States being fiercely antagonistic towards Iran, and the Indo-Pak relationships oscillating with the tide; the aforementioned triangle then became an inscrutable quadrilateral. It was all quiet on the pipeline’s front in the first half of the previous decade, after developments began to resurface from 2007 onwards. In February 2007, Pakistan and India agreed to pay Iran $4.93 per million British thermal units ($4.67/GJ); however, some of the clauses of the agreement were still up for negotiation. In August 2008, Iran iterated its desire to see China enter the project that would make it a gargantuan South Asian project that could rewrite all history books. 2009 saw India abandon the project, owing to the proclaimed security concerns; the fact that India had signed a civilian nuclear deal with US in 2008 also triggered the decision. Even so in 2010, India reiterated its desire to be a part of the project and invited Pakistan and Iran for trilateral talks. However, like in most global matters, the most daunting influence was that of the United States of America. In January 2010, US called on Pakistan to completely abandon the project, with Iranian hostility towards the US rising and Pakistan being flaunted as a pivotal ally in America’s War on Terror. US vowed to provide assistance for a liquefied natural gas terminal and also promised to aid the import of electricity from Tajkistan through Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, if Pakistan were to leave the project. Nevertheless, on 16th March 2010, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement on the pipeline which has been followed by Iranian announcement in July 2011 that it had completed the construction of its section.
Target killings in Hazara are escalating and ostensibly as a warning to the Pakistani hierarchy, who plan on undertaking the construction work now that Iran has nearly completed its side of the project. Jundallah is said to be involved in attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is the principal antagonist in Baluchistan that is threatening to upset the applecart of not only the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, but the recently signed TAPI deal as well. These attempts are under the hangover of the US-Pakistan energy dialogue and Pakistan-Iran Joint Economic Commission (JEC) and are intended to ward off potential investors in the projects.
Balochi hostility regarding the project – while indubitably veritable – has quite often been over exaggerated as well. The province is now making all the right noises as far as a positive outlook and approach towards the project are concerned. Chief Minister Baluchistan, Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani has been buoyant about the project and recently announced that the government of Baluchistan has agreed to give land for the project. The land to be allocated is in the districts of Gwadar and Lasbella, which is an integral route, as far as the pipeline’s passage through Baluchistan is concerned. The chief minister however, expressed his desire to see the contract of the proposed work on the pipeline through Baluchistan be given to local contractors, which would in turn bolster the economy of a province that has unfortunately lagged behind the rest as far as economic prosperity is concerned.
Negotiating price formula
Pakistan has recently articulated its desire to negotiate over the gas price formula with Iran, in accordance with the price mechanism that has been settled under TAPI (Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India) gas pipeline project with Turkmen government. According to the initial agreement between Tehran and Islamabad, Pakistan was to pay 78 per cent of crude oil parity price to Iran after a mutual consensus was reached from both sides. However, after the TAPI project has been signed, Pakistan wants to revisit the numbers with Iran. According to reports, the new numbers could save up to $100 million from the $1.25 billion that were going to cost in the construction of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.
Petroleum minister Dr Asim Hussain, recently proclaimed that the pipeline project would be culminated by the end of 2013, asserting that “first gas flow is targeted by the end of 2014”. This comes after the Iranian hierarchy is on the verge of completing their side of the deal by constructing the pipeline up till the Iran-Pakistan border. Dr Asim Hussain also exclaimed that the government was pursuing a new petroleum exploration and production policy that would bolster the prospects of investment within the realms of oil and gas exploration in the country. Such incentives when coupled with the IP and TAPI projects bode well for the revolution in the energy sector in our part of the world.
As things stand in Pakistan, we are in dire need to an inkling of inspiration to improve our multi-pronged crises. We need to tap into our own reserves and further pursue projects along the lines of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, and the TAPI project is another major step in the right direction. The Iran-Pakistan pipeline project has stood the test of time and has proven itself to be a steadfast quest towards the enhancement of bilateral ties and trade between two forthcoming nations and towards the amelioration of power shortages. Despite a plethora of opposition and animosity, the project continues to surge towards its desired goal. The project has weathered all storms and hopefully, we shall soon see it being proved as one of the most lucrative deals in the history of the region.
The writer is sub-editor Profit. He can be reached at [email protected]