Yesterday I came across several tweets from news sites, like the one below, about Turkmenistan having commenced construction on the ambitious 1,800km Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.[tweet https://twitter.com/etribune/status/639801456846090240 hide_media=’true’]
It made me wonder what happened to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, that this was being positioned by the US and Saudi Arabia as an alternative to. So I put together a rough timeline and here’s what I learned…
It has now been twenty years since the first agreements were signed, eight years since pricing was agreed, four years since Iran announced it had already completed construction on its side of the border, and two and a half years since President Zardari inaugurated construction works on the Pakistan side. And in the meantime, we have made absolutely no progress and are as far away from actually being able to buy any gas from Iran as we were in 1995. I have no idea what Asif Zardari was thinking when he arranged that ground-breaking ceremony. Maybe it was designed to be something they could use both as evidence of their own “achievements” and as a tool to taunt the Sharif government they were handing power to when they caved, as he knew they probably would, to US and Saudi pressure and shelved the project.
Since then, the last two and a half years have been a tale of confusion, lies, u-turns, and between Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and his boss Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, there has been a complete and utter lack of decision-making or direction.
Given the “special” relationship PM Sharif has with the Saudi royal family, the interest in LNG, the attraction of mega infrastructure projects under the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and business interests in India, I cannot see any meaningful progress being made until the PML-N government remains in power.
And, in the meantime, the energy crisis will continue to hold Pakistan’s economy back and keep its people from even beginning to come close to fulfilling their potential.