The USA’s strong opposition to Iran’s pipeline to Pakistan was not just expressed by the US government, but now also is the subject of a threat in the US media to apply sanctions to Pakistan. The media reports, of which the Wall Street Journal one on Saturday was typical, said that sanctions would be applied if Pakistan ‘finalised the deal.’ The report referred to statements by President Asif Zardari after he visited Iran last week to further the project, though there was no mention of his address to PPP legislators, office-bearers and candidates for the coming election, made at the residence of Minister of State Imtiaz Safdar Warriach at Ladhaywala village in Gujranwala district, which he made on Sunday. In this speech, he made clear two things: the government’s commitment to the project despite international pressure, and that the PPP intends to use the project in the coming election. The PPP needs the pipeline project to defend itself against two charges. First, that it has done nothing about the energy crisis plaguing the country. Second, that it is perceived as subservient to the USA.

The reports in the US press indicate Pakistan’s overwhelming need, and what makes Pakistan adhere to the project: the crippling energy crisis, which not only means lost export revenues, but also closing factories and lost jobs, all things which no government wants at election time. The energy crisis means that exports are reduced, factories are closed and jobs are lost, not just that people are inconvenienced, though that too is a great and looming reality. The media reports are also silent on the fact that the alternative the USA proposes, the TAPI pipeline, is precluded both because it will take far longer, and also that the Afghanistan leg is insecure. That will become a very heavy burden for the government, as the electorate is likely to be asked to decide the fate of the government at the height of the heat, when electricity-powered cooling devices will be needed the most, and their lack due to loadshedding will be felt hardest.

The USA has not come to understand that it cannot expect Pakistan to pursue US interests at the cost of its own, and also ignore its cultural, linguistic, religious and economic ties to Iran, which also have a strategic dimension. The government, in its last days, still has an opportunity to convey this to the USA and make it stop the campaign it has started against it.