Iran's President Mehmoud Ahmadinejad and Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari jointly laid the foundation for the construction of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project at Shah Bahar on March 11 amidst severe pressure from the US on Pakistan to abandon it. Hopefully, the 781-km-long pipeline will become operational by December 2014. The project, which had remained in doldrums since 1996 for myriad of debilitating factors, was formally approved by the federal cabinet in its meeting on January 30, 2013. 

For the energy-starved Pakistan, the IP gas pipeline project is of paramount importance to boost industrial production. Apart from the economic considerations of mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries, IP is a significant step in the direction of building regional linkages. The move is also in conformity with the new thinking in the conduct of foreign relations that lays greater emphasis on strengthening regional security through economic and political cooperation with neighbours and countries of the region.

Pakistan is located in the South Asian region and its economic and security interests are inextricably linked to geographical realities. The initiative represents a logical and realistic departure from the past philosophy of the architects of our foreign policy to look beyond the region for the country’s economic and security needs, which has pushed it towards the precipice. The new approach by the present government is going to serve our long-term strategic, economic and political interests in this region, though the strategy might suffer some minor hiccups due to its conflict with the strategic interests of US in our part of the world.

The USA, apart from threatening to impose sanctions on Pakistan, has even tried to lure it away by offering to help in tiding over the energy crisis through other means. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, during a press conference on February 9, said that the IP gas pipeline was a bad idea and America has not changed its position on the subject and it was considering giving Pakistan different options to overcome its energy needs without Iran’s help.

Again, speaking to the media on February 21, she hinted to the possibility of sanctions against Pakistan in case it went ahead with the venture. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Richard G. Olson, the other day, also openly opposed the venture saying that his country would support TAPI, but not IP gas pipeline.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to note that the government of Pakistan has spurned the pressure and refused to be dictated on the issue and has remained steadfast in its decision to ensure implementation of the project.

Further, Iran and Pakistan are working on a number of other joint projects.  President Zardari, while talking to the speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Ardashir Larijani, when he visited Pakistan to attend the meeting of the parliamentary assembly of ECO, emphasised the need for early completion of all bilateral projects, including IP, 1,000MW Taftan-Quetta transmission line, 400MW Gwadar Power Supply Project, Noshki-Dalbandin Highway and up-gradation of the Quetta-Taftan track. He said: “We have to take control of our own affairs and find our own solutions to the problems.” It is good that the two countries are also signing an agreement for setting up of an oil refinery at Gwadar with a capacity to refine 400,000 barrels of oil daily.

Speaking on the subject in the National Assembly, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said: “The government will not compromise on the project and will ensure its implementation within the stipulated time span.” She also informed the house that “this project did not come under the sanctions regime imposed on Iran by the UN, which related to only the oil sector and did not cover the gas transmission ventures.” In the same vein, she maintained: “Pakistan will respect the UN sanction. However, it was not bound to abide by the sanction imposed by the US and European Union.”

The resolve to take our own decisions and resist undue pressures to compromise on national interests marks a discernible paradigm shift in the conduct of our foreign relations; and if the same thinking had permeated since the early days of independence, we would not have been where we stand today.

Most of our troubles and the challenges that we face - one way or the other - owe their existence to the wrong policies pursued by the past regimes and the machinations of our so-called friend, the USA.

Having said that, the Pak-US relationship always remained tactical in nature with the former using the latter to advance its own strategic and global interests. The US has exhibited scant respect for the interests and sovereignty of Pakistan ever since the latter became its ally in the early 50s by joining Seato and Cento. It jeopardised our security by flying the U2 spy plane from Budaber base near Peshawar without the knowledge of the government, which irritated former Soviet Union to the extent that it threatened Pakistan of dire consequences.

In addition, the USA did not help us when we were attacked by India in 1965, and instead imposed embargo on the sale of military hardware to Pakistan; an extremely unfriendly act against an ally.

Next, the much hyped sixth fleet never intervened to save the dismemberment of Pakistan when India attacked former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Further, Pakistan was abandoned to suffer the fallout of the Afghan war after the Soviet forces withdrew from that country; we are still paying the price for the folly of our rulers to become a tool for the advancement of US interests in the region.

The USA bitterly opposed our nuclear programme and even imposed sanctions through the Pressler Amendment. The post-9/11 Pakistan was forced to join the war on terror as a front line state, which has had devastating effects on the nation’s security, law and order situation and the economic growth.

Pakistan has suffered a loss of nearly $68 billion by participating in the US campaign against terrorism and what it has given to it is not even peanuts. Our country is confronted with existentialist threat. It has pummelled our sovereignty with impunity in complete disregard to the international laws. The continuation of drone attacks, the Salala episode and the operation to take out Osama bin Laden are examples of the highhanded tactics of the USA, which by no stretch of imagination can be characterised as friendly acts. The government, therefore, is moving in the right direction to atone for the past blunders and safeguard national interests.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.   Email: ashpak10@gmail.com