The groundbreaking ceremony of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project performed jointly by President Asif Ali Zardari and President Mehmoud Ahmadinejad at Gabd, located in Iran close to Pakistan border, on Monday was, by all logic, a giant leap in history. For the Pakistan government that has not, at least during the past five years or so, been known much for disregarding the US command or counsel to suddenly ignore the threat of sanctions is an act of no small courage. Overwhelmed by financial constraints, it looks up to Washington for relief through international financing institutions like the IMF to which it is at present heavily indebted and might have to have recourse for another package to bail itself out. Sanctions at this stage would further hamper the already crippled economy to get reactivated. Going ahead with building the pipeline signifies that Pakistan has finally realised that its salvation lies in aggressively pursuing a policy of fulfilling energy requirements. Economic networking with Tehran and through Gwadar with Beijing would make for regional cohesion of common interests and would largely go towards enabling us to meet the challenge emanating from our eastern border. Viewed from that angle as well, the decision to pursue the long-delayed project was a strategic move of sterling significance for Pakistan and stability in the region. And that might also persuade the leadership in New Delhi to see the advantages of living in harmony with neighbours, respecting their right of sovereign status and eschewing its hegemonic ambitions. No doubt, it would also have a positive impact on integrating Central Asian States with this region.

The project, when on line, would initially supply 750 million cubic feet of natural gas to Pakistan, to go up to one billion cubic feet later, and help generate as much as 4,000MW of power, a great boon for a country where life, in all its manifestations, has been ruinously affected for want of enough of power supply. It would be complete within 15 months of the start of the work and is expected to be ready by December 2014. The financing part of the 781km long pipeline would, no doubt, pose serious problems for cash-strapped Pakistan though out of the revised cost of $1.3 billion, Tehran would give a loan of $500 million for the work to take off. Islamabad would foot the bill afterwards. Reportedly, in an attempt to ward off sanctions, payment to Iran would be against the charges for the gas Pakistan would receive.

For Pakistan, the gas flowing from Iran would be a dream come true. The alternative project TAPI suggested by the US is virtually a non-starter, at least for the unstable conditions in the area through which its pipeline is designed to pass and its long gestation period during which Pakistan cannot afford to live in the doldrums. One should expect the US to be more indulgent towards its key partner in the war on terror and a host of other arrangements of common interest in the past and would desist from applying the sanctions.