Is Pakistan really defying U.S. to please Iran?

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The young generations of both Iran and Pakistan hardly know that both countries were bonded in a strong friendship before joining the U.S. bloc. Economic and military cooperation between the two was a regular practice. Tehran’s support to Islamabad during Pakistan-India war of 1965 was considered a precious brotherly help and it was mentioned in school and college syllabi for a long time.

However, relations between Iran and Pakistan suffered in the wake of 1979 Iranian revolution and 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and worsened in the aftermath of Soviet forces withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988 as both countries vied to expand their influence over Kabul.

Gas pipeline project

Following the ouster of Taliban government from Kabul in the wake of 9/11, the tension in their strained relations was quite relieved but the old 'warmth' remained missing due to new global alignments and their cooperation remained confined mostly to economic. The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project looked set to revive the old ties between them but its commissioning delayed for over a decade because Washington strongly opposed it, considering it dangerous for its interests in the region.

Initially, the IPI gas pipeline was such a mega project in Asia that included Bangladesh also. But Washington forced New Delhi eject out of the project and compensated her by providing civil nuclear technology and making her a long-term defense partner in Asia.

Tehran needed friends to counter her international isolation while Islamabad was in dire need of energy resources. Both gradually revived the project and finally Pakistani cabinet approved 1.5 billion U.S. dollar Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project at a time when visiting ex-foreign minister and adviser to Iranian supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati, was busy in meeting different political leaders to get support for the project.

U.S. pressure

Informed quarters say Islamabad has assured Tehran that it would never abandon the project under Washington’s pressure. Fearing New Delhi like chickening out by Islamabad, Tehran had asked for guarantees that billions of dollar worth state-to-state project should not be shelved and Islamabad should counter the U.S. pressure at all costs.

It is worth mentioning that Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and other cabinet members expressed concerns over possible ‘U.S. reaction’ against awarding Rs 50 billion contract to Iranian firms under IP gas pipeline project, but disallowed those concerns to become part of the official record to avoid inviting more global problems for Pakistan in future. To counter those concerns, the prime minister constituted a high-power ministerial committee and directed it to take cabinet into confidence at every stage.

Financial Times of UK warned in its recent issue that an angry Washington may use the option of isolating Islamabad following the IP gas pipeline deal, adding that Iranian and Pakistani companies involved in IP deal and those international companies cooperating with them could become target of sanctions already enforced on Iran for its nuclear program.

Diplomats in Islamabad are amazed as to how the government of ruling PPP, which is about to complete its five year-term courtesy U.S. support, acquire a sudden courage to defy Washington. Last December, President Asif Zardari, who is also PPP co-chairman, was scheduled to visit Iran for finalizing the IP project details but the visit was canceled just one day before his departure when Washington sent a special envoy on energy to assure Islamabad of its help in seeking alternate energy resources and announced two million U.S. dollars aid for proposed Diamer-Bhasha dam.

Taking a look at the five-year rule of PPP-led coalition government, riddled with corruption and blind toeing of U.S. line, it seems nothing less than astonishment that policy makers in Islamabad are set to boldly defy Washington, and that too when government’s term is ending next month. Opinion polls, both international and domestic, are too pessimistic about any significant success of the PPP and its allies in coming elections since their corruption, bad governance and fighting a U.S-war inside their own country is the ‘crowning success’ of their five years rule. This ‘bold’ decision is viewed as a decoy PPP and allies will use in election campaign to take the alienated masses in for winning the polls.

If the masses waiting for a “Pakistan Spring” kicked out PPP and its allies in coming elections for their miserable performance, they would have no option but to curse the mighty establishment ruling from behind the scene and its U.S. mentors for their defeat. But the mood of debates in public circles, active media and various social media for a show international card may not work well this time in Pakistani electoral politics.

(Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached through email: mansoor.jafar@gmail.com and Twitter: @mansoorjafar)