Unfortunately, we all have to stumble upon those fiddly little moments when we have to take life defining decisions. Some of us prefer to take the backseat and let others take those decisions for us, hence, conjuring up a scapegoat for the inevitable failure in judgment – while others choose to keep the decision-making powers within their own hands. Either way, there is no doubt that one such earth-shattering decision is that of earmarking one’s spouse; a choice that undoubtedly has lifelong ramifications.
Nuptial historians classify marriages into two primary categories; love marriages and arranged marriages. However, there is a painful sub-category of the latter, in which one is pressurised into walking down the aisle with the trophy wife – one that the family has chosen – in lieu of one’s longtime sweetheart. Pakistan is at the crossroads of taking a plunge into one such heartbreak scenario, as our uncle is twisting our arm and forcing us into opting out of a decision that we have long set our heart upon. In this little world of energy crisis driven metaphorical matrimonies, the uncle in question is of course our dear Uncle Sam, with the Iran-Pakistan pipeline playing the high school sweetheart to TAPI’s trophy wife. And with the energy shortage in our neck of the woods well documented – six billion cubic feet natural gas requirement being met with merely 4.1 bcf per day, and gas shortfall of one billion units per day – it would be an understatement to suggest that Pakistan is in desperate need of gas pipeline wedlock.
The IP love affair began in May 2009, with the project expected to bring in around 750 million cubic feet of gas to Pakistan and providing around 5,000 megawatts power generation capacity. Considering their label of being wobbly and indecisive, our government’s uncharacteristically firm stance on the IP pipeline divulges an unprecedented level of passionate affection. Couple this with the global antagonism over all things Iranian, and the devotion becomes all the more momentous. All the same, if there is a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tale in the global geo-political scene, the Iran-Pakistan pipeline story is that. With Uncle Sam being our godfather, and the final authority on most family matters, the Washington-Tehran-Islamabad triangle is reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedies; with unfulfilled promises of teenage lovers mortifying under worldly animosity. Washington’s wide array of sanctions on Iran, owing ostensibly to its civil nuclear programme, has ensured that Islamabad is under escalating pressure to abandon the pipeline project, even though the repercussions for Pakistan are as conspicuous as an African elephant slipping over a banana skin. And with every potential bride shunned by those at the helm of the family, there is an alternate better half that has been identified to distract the Romeo away from his Juliet. Cue TAPI pipeline.
TAPI is your typical ‘other woman’ from epic love stories; good looking, strong family background, alluring for one and all barring the protagonist of the tale. However, a closer look suggests that all is not quite as well. With TAPI, it’s the ‘A’ that stands out as the biggest thorn; and any project that traverses the precarious land of Afghanistan falls short of the realm of safety by a good few light years. Also, with the eventual price tag of TAPI gas towering way above that of IP, our uncle’s choice has proved to be more high-maintenance than earlier perceived to be. Nevertheless, it is easy to discern the reasons behind Uncle Sam and his chums’ desire of uniting Islamabad and TAPI, with western multinational companies’ hegemony over Dauletabad gas reserves. It’s the lust for monopoly over oil and gas; a skewed nuclear proliferation policy; an embarrassing war on terror; and the new great game all thrown into the Middle Eastern/Central Asian cauldron as Washington plans on stamping Islamabad’s marital future. Considering all the aforementioned twists in this dramatic tale, do we actually take the IP project as our lawfully approved gas pipeline for better for worse, for richer for poorer and in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part? It seems as if we do.
The writer is Sub-Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be reached at [email protected]