- Iran: Eight Prisoners Hanged on Drug Charges
- Daughter of late Iranian president jailed for ‘spreading lies’
- IRAN: Annual report on the death penalty 2016
- Taheri Facing the Death Penalty Again
- Dedicated team seeking return of missing agent in Iran
- Iran Arrests 2, Seizes Bibles During Catholic Crackdown
- Trump to welcome Netanyahu as Palestinians fear U.S. shift
- Details of Iran nuclear deal still secret as US-Tehran relations unravel
- Will Trump's Next Iran Sanctions Target China's Banks?
- Don’t ‘tear up’ the Iran deal. Let it fail on its own.
- Iran Has Changed, But For The Worse
- Iran nuclear deal ‘on life support,’ Priebus says
- Female Activist Criticizes Rouhani’s Failure to Protect Citizens
- Iran’s 1st female bodybuilder tells her story
- Iranian lady becomes a Dollar Millionaire on Valentine’s Day
- Two women arrested after being filmed riding motorbike in Iran
- 43,000 Cases of Child Marriage in Iran
- Woman Investigating Clinton Foundation Child Trafficking KILLED!
- Senior Senators, ex-US officials urge firm policy on Iran
- In backing Syria's Assad, Russia looks to outdo Iran
- Six out of 10 People in France ‘Don’t Feel Safe Anywhere’
- The liberal narrative is in denial about Iran
- Netanyahu urges Putin to block Iranian power corridor
- Iran Poses ‘Greatest Long Term Threat’ To Mid-East Security
Monday 11 March 2013
CHAHBAHAR, Iran (AP) — Pakistan's president is traveling to Iran on Monday for a ceremony to mark the start of construction of a controversial pipeline to bring natural gas from Iran despite American opposition to the project.
The Iran-Pakistan pipeline is intended to help Pakistan overcome its mushrooming energy needs at a time when the country is facing increased blackouts and energy shortages.
But there are serious doubts about how Pakistan could finance the $1.5 billion needed to construct the pipeline and whether it could go through with the project without facing U.S. sanctions, which Washington has put in place to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.
Monday's ceremony comes just days before the government's term is set to expire and could be designed to win votes by making the ruling Pakistan People's Party look like it's addressing the energy crisis. It also allows the government to thumb its nose at the United States, which is widely unpopular in Pakistan despite billions of dollars in military and civilian aid.
The U.S. has opposed the project, instead promoting an alternative pipeline that runs from the gas fields of Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and then to India. The U.S. has also championed a number of electricity-generation projects within Pakistan such as helping renovate hydropower dams.
Iran says it has already finished its side of the pipeline which travels 1,150 kilometers (715 miles) from the gas fields to the Iran-Pakistan border, where the ceremony will be held Monday. The Pakistan segment of the pipeline is expected to be about 780 kilometers (485 miles). Gas is supposed to start flowing in by the end of 2014, although few see that deadline as realistic considering the delays so far in the project.
The U.S. has repeatedly raised questions about the project.
"If this deal is finalized for a proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline, it would raise serious concerns under our Iran Sanctions Act. We've made that absolutely clear to our Pakistani counterparts," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during a press briefing in Washington last week.
Rhetoric aside, it remains to be seen whether Pakistan would ever actually face American sanctions. The PPP government led by President Asif Ali Zardari likely has only days left leading the country because new elections are expected to be called by the end of the week.
"That timing is very important for the People's Party because they are building their campaign on this," said Hussain Yasar, a senior energy analyst at KASB Securities in Karachi.
One of the chief complaints of Pakistanis with the current government is over the widespread blackouts that have only gotten worse since it took over five years ago. The government seems to be flouting its commitment to the pipeline as a way to prove it is committed to solving the energy crisis despite its track record, and has emphasized that it is going forward with the project in the face of U.S. opposition.
Speaking Monday morning before the president and his entourage left for Iran, a presidential spokesman said the project will have a huge economic impact on Pakistan.
"We hope our friends understand our energy needs," said Farhatullah Babar in a veiled reference to the U.S.
One of the biggest challenges for cash-strapped Pakistan is how to come up with the money needed to build the pipeline.
With few countries willing to court American ire by financing the project, Iran has reportedly given Pakistan a $500 million loan to build part of it. Babar would not confirm the loan but said Iran has provided assurances that its company will build the pipeline on the Pakistani side.
The Pakistanis have said they will finance the rest of the project — roughly $1 billion — through an additional fee added to customers' bills, but that is a tough proposition considering how few Pakistanis actually pay for electricity.
It's unclear whether Pakistan's commitment to the project will continue if the ruling party loses the upcoming election. The PPP's main contender is the Pakistan Muslim League-N, headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who spent years living in exile Saudi Arabia.
The oil-rich gulf kingdom, a Sunni Muslim country with deep suspicion of Iran's Shiite Muslim rulers, is believed to also be adamantly opposed to any deal that would benefit Iran.
"It will be a tricky situation for the PML-N," said Yasar.
Santana reported from Islamabad.