Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s threat of imposition of sanctions on Pakistan should it proceed with getting natural gas from Iran has elicited a firm reaction from Islamabad. Both Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar have reaffirmed that the deal with Iran served Pakistan’s national interests and it would go ahead with its plans. From the American Administration have come mixed signals: An attempt at denial that Ms Clinton’s remarks were a warning, side by side with recalling that the US has a large repertoire of sanctions and that Pakistan would do well to think twice before taking the plunge. Iranian President Mehmoud Ahmadinejad has also spoken. Alluding to Pakistan’s nuclear status, he called upon it to remain steadfast in its stand, expressing the conviction that the US could do no harm to either of the countries. To the threats from the US, he said they would be dealt with at the appropriate time.

The situation might appear to some to be getting complicated, but for the policymakers of Pakistan the choice between meeting the US demand and obtaining the Iranian gas should be absolutely clear. To relieve the country of the mounting shortages of electricity, it must proceed with procuring the required energy resource from whatever source it suits Pakistan. The Iranian source is the most feasible for it, financially as well as from the point of view of proximity. Succumbing to any pressure to abandon the project would further worsen the already crippling power crisis it has to bear. At present, many an industrial unit is being forced to shut for lack of power, let alone any new ones to come on line. The other sectors of the economy like agriculture are not immune from its impact. The economy, already in the doldrums, threatens to come crashing down. It is virtually a question of survival for the country. The fact is that Pakistan is not averse to tapping the Turkmenistan source in view of its growing energy needs, but as an additional project. Not only is its terrain treacherous, all the more so because of the trouble-ridden area through which the pipeline would have to pass, but also because the project would take much longer to materialise.

One would like to hope and expect that the US understand Pakistan’s compulsions and whatever grouse it has against Iran, not create any hindrance to Pakistan’s pursuit of its national interests. As the Foreign Minister hoped at a press briefing in Islamabad on Thursday, the United States would not impose unilateral sanctions against the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Irrespective of the outcome of these verbal exchanges between the US and Pakistan, we must not deviate from the decision to implement the IP gasline project and, unfazed by the warning of sanctions, give further depth to our relations with Iran, including the procurement of electricity that is on the cards and the expansion of trade relations. The US, as Mr Ahmadinejad said, cannot afford to pick more quarrels, at least at this stage.