Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik always seems to be in the news for his outrageous statements, ranging from terrorists dressed like Star Wars' characters to attributing sectarian violence to men trying to get rid of wives and girlfriends. Another headline was added to the mix on Monday - Pakistan daily Dawn reported that Malik had not paid his electricity bills for more than 56 months, or a little less than five years.
In a country where parliamentarians are notorious for not paying taxes and Rehman Malik's popularity is almost non-existent, this news will hardly raise any eyebrows.
Except for the harsh reality: Pakistan is facing a crippling energy crisis that will not be resolved overnight and is hardly helped by news of Malik's non-payments.
As summer approaches and the mercury creeps up, demand for electricity will skyrocket. Consumers will run fans and air-conditioners (provided they have electricity) for longer durations in the summer, and Pakistan's electricity output is nowhere close to meeting these needs. There appears to be no imminent solution to the nightmare that is Pakistan's energy sector.
Pakistan's energy crisis has caused it to lose up to two percent of its GDP since at least 2010. While organizations such as the Asian Development Bank and USAID have helped (USAID says it has spent $156.5 million since 2009 on assistance projects in the energy sector), funding projects aimed at adding megawatts to the grid, improving line losses, and initiating small-scale dam projects, assistance alone is not a long-term solution.
And then there is the circular debt issue. Essentially, the Pakistani government provides electricity subsidies to users, but is unable to pay off the subsidies' cost difference to electricity providers, who, in turn, are running low on the cash reserves necessary to pay Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and fuel suppliers. The government pays a certain portion of this debt owed by state-owned power companies to private power producers and Pakistan State Oil, but it is still not enough to cover the losses. The debt has now crossed the Rs.800 billion mark. Gas and power shutoffs, from both scheduled and unscheduled loadshedding, continue on a daily basis, and the government's failure to implement financial reforms has the IMF issuing tense reports on the country's economic situation. A recent audit report of a USAID project for the Jamshoro Thermal Power Plant's repair states that the project will be unsustainable if the Government of Pakistan does not implement reforms.
The problems that Pakistan faces seem insurmountable: many consumers, like the country's interior minister, local and provincial government offices, intelligence agencies -- the list goes on -- don't pay electricity bills. Others resort to illegal connections to steal electricity, causing a massive loss to power companies. And according to a report in the Express Tribune in December 2012, the current government has "doled out PKR 1.4 trillion in power subsidies" over its five-year tenure, an issue multilateral development organizations like the Asian Development Bank have critiqued in the past.
Pakistan has tried to take measures to resolve the crisis, but most of these efforts have come to nought. The much-touted Rental Power Plants scheme advocated by then-Federal Minister for Water and Power and now-Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf were mired in corruption. Construction of small-scale hydropower projects is underway, but these are not going to make Pakistan electricity-sufficient. Pakistan is now going forward with a gas pipeline deal with Iran to meet its energy needs, but that has come under fire from the U.S., raising fears that Pakistan may be hit with sanctions if it goes ahead.
In 2012, Pakistan's electricity shortfall shot up to over 8000 MW, resulting in crippling electricity blackouts of 12-16 hours. Industries have suffered tremendously as the crisis has worsened, and consumers have staged protests throughout the country, demanding action from the government. This month, Pakistan State Oil was slapped with a fine for defaulting on its payments to international suppliers. And on Feb. 24 this year, there was a nationwide power breakdown -- a 180 million people or so were affected.
With general elections in Pakistan just a couple of months away, there doesn't appear to be the appetite or the political will for reforms in the country. And as it is, it is too late to implement reforms, since a caretaker government will be installed once the parliament finishes its term in the coming weeks. As campaigning for votes begins, politicians will offer quick-fix solutions and promises that they say will be fulfilled once their party is elected. However, Pakistan's energy sector requires solutions in the short and long-term, financial resources and the courage to implement reforms.
The IMF, ADB, and a bevy of experts have advised the Pakistani government ad infinitum on potential solutions, including the end of subsidies on electricity, raising tariffs, and recovering outstanding payments from consumers like Mr. Malik and the intelligence agencies. Addressing the energy crisis will require Pakistan's next government to move toward using coal in power plants, and away from using furnace oil, which is expensive and has contributed to Pakistan's circular debt problems. Instead of trying to convince donors to fund large-scale projects, the new government could also focus on building more small-scale power plants that could contribute to diminishing the shortfall, even if it's just a tiny drop in the ocean. Reforms should also include a more concerted effort towards domestic conservation of electricity (if I had a penny for the number of times I've seen air-conditioners running non-stop in ministers' houses...) and an effective load management system, before Pakistan plunges into the darkness again.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune and the news channel Express News. She is based in Washington, DC. http://humaimtiaz.com.
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Last month saw a major step forward for the proposed TAPI natural gas pipeline. Regarded as a perennial pipe dream by many energy analysts, many critics of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India project were silenced by the signing of a gas sales and purchase agreement between Turkmengaz, Inter State Gas Systems of Pakistan and the Gas Authority of India (GAIL). With the backing of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the deal set important specifics, including payment and transit terms. But the ambitious project still faces daunting hurdles before it can become reality.
Not least of these challenges is its proposed 750 kilometer route through some of Afghanistan's most war-torn provinces such as Herat and Kandahar. TAPI has received strong support from the United States as part of Washington's "New Silk Road" strategy to bring development to Afghanistan through regional infrastructure connections, and as an alternative to the proposed Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline. As part of the recent agreement, GAIL will be responsible for managing the pipeline's security -- from the Turkmen border to end consumers in Indian homes -- and Pakistan's participation in the project may spare it some attacks. Despite this factor, there is no question that security will remain a major concern throughout the pipeline's construction and operation.
However, it may not be the greatest challenge to the realization of TAPI. That challenge may come simply from the size and focus of the project. Feasibility studies have been conducted, most notably by the ADB. But if the consortium does not concentrate on quickly constructing a commerc?ally-or?ented pipeline on a manageable scale, it risks repeating the mistakes of the now infamous Nabucco pipeline, which was to have connected Turkmenistan on its Caspian side with natural gas consumers in Central Europe. After close to a decade and a half of discussion, Nabucco is now being scaled back to half its size, and may not go forward at all. Nabucco's faults were that it was a geopolitical project, aimed at busting Russian gas dominance in Eurasia, and that at 3,000+ km it became an unwieldy mess of multiple transit countries and stakeholders. Aimed at providing a massive 31 billion cubic meters of gas each year, it was in danger of becoming technically unfeasible, as well as transporting more gas than could realistically be consumed downstream.
Current plans for TAPI call for a 1700 kilometer line bringing up to 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year to consumers along the route. This is already very ambitious for a route traversing dangerous territory, and following last month's agreement, Bangladesh expressed interest in joining the project, potentially extending it to 2500 kilometers, with an increased capacity. Projected costs, calculated by the ADB, have also grown from $7.5 billion to $12 billion, even without the proposed Bangladesh extension.
The Afghanistan portion is undeniably critical to TAPI's construction: there is no other route for Turkmen gas to reach South Asia. It could bring major benefits to the feeble Afghan economy, especially if plans are realized for spin-off projects to serve local communities along the way. But, TAPI will fail if it becomes a "peace pipeline," whether for Afghanistan or between India and Pakistan. To their credit, the U.S. State Department officials working on the project have consistently stressed that it must first and foremost be commercially viable. But that does not stop regional actors, whether part of the consortium or not, from politicizing an already sensitive trans-national project.
TAPI must also maintain a reasonable scope. The construction of a record-breaking pipeline through a conflict zone with too many regional cooks in the kitchen is an insurmountable task. A relatively modest gas link with sound commercial underpinning and adequate security provisions may stand a chance at becoming reality. The current plan still resembles the second option, but there have been indications recently that we could end up with the first. New partners, whether Bangladesh or others, can join later, once pipe has actually been laid. Technical provisions can be made for the pipeline's capacity to be expanded down the road. The key is to have the pipeline built, not to continually talk about building it.
TAPI should move forward on the basis of this past month's agreement. The current partners have been working together for years and, according to the ADB, have finally overcome the majority of the sticking points that stood in the way of implementation. The focus should be on progress towards construction, not expansion of the project. Eurasia has seen its fair share of pipe dreams. It is time for one to become reality. The region does not need another Nabucco.
Alexandros Petersen is author of the The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West and Advisor to the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His current research is available at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
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Pakistan warrants concern, and not just because it is sitting on the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The country is in the throes of a destabilizing and dangerous energy crisis. It faces gas shortages, and electricity outages of up to 20 hours a day. As a result, factories have been forced into closing. There is double-digit inflation. Infrastructure is crumbling for want of resources. And harrowing stories of the newly impoverished setting themselves on fire or resorting to crime have become the new normal.
Good deeds never go unpunished in Pakistan. The United States, Pakistan's most generous ally, remains public enemy No. 1 for reasons that do not withstand any rational scrutiny. But then Pakistan has never been accused of being terribly rational. As someone invested in Pakistan's progress, I have always maintained the U.S. must provide an energy lifeline to our ally country to establish in real and rapid terms the consideration it accords the 190 million people of Pakistan. If the U.S. were to help solve Pakistan's energy crisis-and it can-there could be no better measure to manage and mitigate anti-America sentiment in the country and no better billboard to showcase that the U.S. means business.
Unfortunately, far too often the urgency of U.S. economic support announcements and photo ops in Islamabad are dulled by inaction or bungled by red tape in Washington. This fuels disenchantment at many levels. Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last April, Pakistan's finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said his country had "not even received $300 million" of the $1.5 billion in annual economic support promised to Pakistan under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009.
It is also true that the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari is crippled by compulsions of keeping intact a coalition of disparate parties often at odds with each other. Thus, Mr. Shaikh is the country's fifth finance minister in four years. The turnover at the other key ministries-water and power, and petroleum and natural resources-is just as alarming. The government's capacity for economic and information management also seems woefully inadequate.
Then there are the corruption allegations Mr. Zardari faced in the 1990s and which didn't lead to a single conviction. These are still in circulation and, coupled with Pakistan's governance crisis, provide Zardari critics in Pakistan's freewheeling media and opposition virtually uncontested space to hurl with indignant certitude all manner of accusations against foreign, and local, investments made on his watch. In other words, any projects during the last four years for the economic advancement and eminent good of Pakistan-including the Enhanced Partnership Act with the U.S.-are, in the popular imagination, either Trojan horses or sweetheart deals.
As if things weren't bad enough for Pakistan's image abroad, the country's irreversibly sensational and bizarrely anti-business media gleefully peddles self-fulfilling prophesies of an economic and political meltdown. If you strip down the self-righteous rhetoric, the media in particular is determined that Pakistan's economy fail-at least while Mr. Zardari is around.
We have seen this picture before. In the mid-90s, when Mr. Zardari's assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, charmed investors into setting up privately-owned power plants, her government was accused of corruption. When Nawaz Sharif's government took over, it launched "investigations," arresting not only the executives of these foreign and local power companies but also their family members. The effects were disastrous. The investment climate became toxic and would remain so until 9/11. And potential investors like Gordon Wu, who had wanted to invest $6 billion in Pakistan, ran for the nearest exit.
Faced with international censure and arbitration proceedings, Islamabad eventually agreed to a settlement: the power companies reduced their tariffs to afford the government some face saving, and the government rewarded the companies by extending their contracts with public sector power buyers. Today, the "independent power plants" Bhutto set up provide almost 30 percent of Pakistan's total electricity supply. One hopes that Bhutto and Zardari opponents realize how much worse the energy crisis would have been had these power plants not been installed.
Since the summer of 2006, Pakistan has seen recurrent and riotous protests over power shortages. These picked up after the Zardari-led government was elected in 2008 and as outages grew, exacerbated by the government's liquidity problems. The protests have resulted in the destruction of public property-and deaths. The opposition has led several of these protests while simultaneously ensuring through litigation and an unrelenting media trial that no new power generation capacity comes online during Zardari's term. Yet, no one has called out the opposition over its rank contradictions and persecutory power past.
For the last two years, Pakistan's Supreme Court had been hearing three "human rights" petitions, including one filed by a Sharif lieutenant, challenging the installation of fast-track power plants as a short-term solution for the country. On March 30, the eve of another power protest by the opposition, the court delivered its verdict: all "rental power" contracts were declared illegal and rescinded and an independent agency was ordered to launch inquiries in support of the judgment. At 7:40 p.m. that day, we were directed to shut down power supplies to Naudero, Bhutto's constituency. American personnel at the plant have been flown back. Almost all Pakistani staff has been laid off.
In Pakistan's increasingly cynical society, all success is suspect. Unless you're Chinese, all foreign investors are viewed not as risk takers and growth drivers for the Pakistani economy but as usurpers, looters, and worse. After the recent court judgment, even the Ankara-supported "Turkey-Pakistan friendship" power ship has been impounded. And the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is popular not just because it is critically required but because it also provides the added bonus of showing down the United States., which is opposed to the project.
There's also the Tethyan Copper Company, a partnership between Chile's Antofagasta and Canada's Barrick Gold, which spent $220 million working toward a $3.3-billion copper and gold mine in Reko Diq in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province only to be stamped as colonizers by the courts and media. When the company was forced into placing advertisements to push its facts forward in the public domain, it was slapped with a gag order and disallowed to challenge the fevered narrative of misrepresentations against it. Tethyan is headed for international arbitration, an all too familiar venue for foreign investors who put store in Pakistan.
Pakistan is complicated. It hates the U.S., yet America is the second most popular destination for Pakistani immigrants. It resents American economic support, yet complains that there is too little of it. It craves investment, but will rescind legal contracts in paroxysms of nationalist hysteria casting a cloud over every existing and future contract.
America can help. It needs to emphasize to all Pakistani stakeholders-politicians, the judiciary, the Army-that their country must abide by its legal contracts and that it must unreservedly depoliticize the energy sector and the economy. Pakistan must enact a real defamation law that provides economic disincentives to the incendiary media and sets it on a path to self-correction. The U.S. must facilitate capacity building, especially in key Pakistani energy ministries and agencies, to effect durable, long-term economic planning. It can and should provide speedy debt support, for example through the U.S. State Department's Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to expedite energy projects that can visibly and meaningfully improve the lives of Pakistanis. The U.S. must make its aid to Pakistan conditional on the country delivering on these basic and essential reforms.
The opposition and torch-wielding media lynch mob claim to have the best interests at heart of the tens of millions of Pakistanis-whose everyday lives are roiled by energy shortages and rendered meaningless from darkening economic prospects-but if they think they're doing well by the people of Pakistan, they should think again.
David Walters was the governor of Oklahoma from 1990 to 1994. He is the founder and president of Walters Power International, a power solutions firm doing business in over 14 countries, including the U.K. He is a partner in Pakistan Power Resources, LLC, and Walters Power International Limited owns a 51-megawatt power plant in Pakistan.
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The controversial Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline has become an increasingly problematic issue in the vacillating U.S-Pakistan relationship. The United States has strongly condemned the project, but such rhetoric seems only to have made Pakistan more determined to continue with it. An energy agreement between Iran and Pakistan would be detrimental to U.S efforts to isolate Iran and force the shutdown of its nuclear program. And while it could potentially alleviate Pakistan's energy crisis, the proponents of the project seem more interested in defying the West than inquiring about its ‘real' benefits.
Pakistan is crippled by an energy crisis that causes power outages for hours, daily, leading to violent protests around the country, such as those in Lahore last week. Many do not have gas for heating or cooking purposes, and electricity outages affect schools, hospitals, businesses and industries, bringing an already dwindling economy to a halt. In such a scenario, Pakistan is forced to look elsewhere to meet its needs.
The IP gas pipeline is one such prospect. The idea, conceptualized in 1990 with negotiations starting in 1994, is to construct a pipeline that would pass solely between the two countries. As the prospect developed, India entered the game, and the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline -- popularly known as the "Peace Pipeline" -- came into existence. In 2008, however, India signed a civil nuclear power deal with the U.S and pulled out of the project; many analysts accused it of succumbing to American pressure.
On March 16, 2010, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement on the pipeline during a meeting in the Turkish capital city of Ankara. The revised pipeline, with a projected cost of $1.5 billion, would start from the South Pars gas field in Iran's southern city of Asalouyeh and pass through Bandar-Abbas and Iranshahr, until it reaches Khuzdar, Balochistan. At Khuzdar, a section is planned to extend to Karachi while the rest of the pipeline would continue through Sui to Multan.
In July 2011, Iran claimed that it had almost completed 900 km of its construction of the 56 inch diameter pipeline, though this assertion remains unconfirmed. Pakistan is to lay 781 km of the pipeline in its territory, and the project is expected to be completed by December 2014. Although completion remains two years away, Pakistan views this project as a medium-term investment to pull it out of a crippling energy crisis. Iran has also expressed its commitment to alleviating Pakistan's woes, and once operations begin it will provide 750 million cubic feet of gas per day for 25 years.
Pakistan can no longer depend on domestic resources to address its crippling energy problems. During the third Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran trilateral summit held on February 16, 2012, turning to Iran, Pakistan has reiterated its commitment to the IP gas pipeline project, a 1,000-megawatt electricity transmission line, and a 100-megawatt power supply from Gwadar to meet Pakistan's energy woes. In return, Iran has offered to enhance bilateral trade to $10 billion by importing specific commodities such as rice and wheat, in the following few months. But, it is difficult to predict whether such bold developments will ever actually be implemented.
The United States, meanwhile, supports an alternate gas pipeline -- known as the TAPI pipeline because it would run through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The TAPI pipeline project has, however, been rejected by Pakistan for a number of reasons. It will take much longer to materialize, will pass through treacherous and unreliable terrain, and involves too many regional players -- specifically India and Afghanistan -- which Pakistan views with suspicion.
The TAPI pipeline would flow through war-torn Afghanistan, and until the end game there is clear, Pakistani authorities, justifiably, are not ready to take such a risk on their energy survival. The situation recently grew more complicated when Afghanistan hinted at possibly withdrawing from the project. Though the final round of the TAPI negotiations are to be held on April 19, if Afghanistan does indeed withdraw from the project, America's proposal of a viable alternate to the IP gas pipeline would be in grave danger.
On February 29, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton expressed frustration with Pakistan's intention to push ahead with the IP pipeline at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. She threatened sanctions that "would be particularly damaging to Pakistan because their economy is already quite shaky," should Pakistan continue with its commitment to build the IP gas pipeline and hence, violate the Iran Sanctions Act. While a proposed Iran-Turkey pipeline appears to progress sans sanctions, Pakistan could face an immediate termination of financial and military assistance.
Secretary Clinton's remarks have raised serious objections, and have only made Pakistan more adamant about continuing with the project. The "threat" prompted brave words from Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar: "We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan. All of these projects are in Pakistan's national interest, and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous considerations."
In November 2010, similar defensive posturing was prompted when Ambassador Munter stated that "the plan to get gas from Turkmenistan is a better idea" than the IP pipeline. Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan slammed the comment, stating, "Islamabad will not accept any dictation regarding its internal affairs from any foreign country. Gas from Iran is in the country's best interest."
However, it is still unclear whether the IP gas pipeline is indeed in the best interests of the country. The pre-feasibility study that will determine whether the pipeline should be built by estimating the finances needed and the expected timeframe of the project has only just begun. The most pressing issue Pakistan will face if it decides to construct the IP gas pipeline, is that of raising finances. The issue has gained geo-political attention, and a consortium led by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has recently pulled out of the project, prompting the Pakistani government to look elsewhere for finances. The federal government is currently negotiating a deal with Russian giant gas monopoly, Gazprom, for financial and technical assistance. While no agreement has currently been reached, senior level discussions are underway. With a crippled economy and diminished finances, Pakistan may very well be unable to embark on the project due to lack of funds from international investors.
With Pakistan still grappling for funds, and the feasibility study commissioned by Pakistan not expected to be completed before October 2013, vehement U.S opposition and rhetoric is premature at this moment. Sanctions would severely affect the economy, and Pakistan is unlikely to be ready to take that risk. Most recently, Pakistan hired experts to study the consequences of the sanctions, should it move ahead with constructing the pipeline. While the country can benefit immensely from an energy pipeline with Iran, being closely associated with a nation receiving so much negative international attention may do it more harm than good.
Without a clear argument and only an unclear picture of the project itself, Pakistan's determination to construct the pipeline is simply a political move in response to foreign interference in internal matters, and nothing more than that at this moment.
Armed with this realization and an awareness of the rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan, the United States needs to adopt a more sensitive and informed approach to tackle the equally sensitive issue of the IP pipeline. The United States must differentiate between nuclear development and regional cooperation. By encouraging trade and energy agreements, it could illustrate a genuine concern for peace and stability in the region, as well as repair America's image abroad. The United States must show a serious commitment to alleviating the energy crisis in Pakistan, and hold talks with key players in the private sector. The private sector will not only serve as a wealth of information and a vehicle of action but also as a prime interlocutor.
The State Department is currently helping Pakistan with thermal energy generation, and investing in dams, but it must also consider working jointly with Pakistan on stand-alone power projects that utilize wind and water, contain leakages that remain a prime reason of energy wastage, suggest mechanisms to avoid energy theft, and foster dialogue between experts in the field.
Finding support for a conciliatory approach may not be easy. The Obama administration is facing tough questions at home on its continued engagement with the Af-Pak region, having achieved the objective of killing former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Defending the war in Afghanistan and securing a $2.2 billion budget in economic and security assistance for Pakistan will be difficult. Additionally, pressuring South Asian countries to ostracize Iran will only lead to more animosity. The need of the hour is cooperation, not sanctions. Illustrating a true commitment to addressing Pakistan's greatest handicap, instead of condemning regional policy decisions, will open up a world of opportunities for both sides.
Arsla Jawaid is Assistant Editor at the monthly foreign policy magazine, SouthAsia. Arsla holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies. She can be followed on Twitter @arslajawaid.
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On a day of suicide attacks in Quetta and bomb threats againstPakistani airliners, Ali Akbar Salehi's September 7 arrival in Islamabad attracted predictably little media attention in Pakistan.
For Pakistan's government, however, his visit was freighted with importance. Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, was in town for a meeting of thePakistan-Iran Joint Economic Commission (JEC). The two-day talks produced agreements on technical, financial, and media cooperation, with additional steps taken to strengthen cooperation on energy, money laundering, and trade.
This economic summit came on the heels of intensive efforts by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to reach out to Tehran. He visited Iran in late June for a two-day conference on terrorism, and then returned just a few weeks later. Both times, he was received by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And on both occasions, the rhetoric flowed freely. At the first meeting, Zardari praised Iran as "an important friend and player in the region," noting that bilateral ties "are rooted in historical, cultural, and religious bonds." During the second visit, Khamenei lauded Pakistan for being "a great nation with [a] long and deep background of struggle."
Shortly after the JEC meeting, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani traveled to Tehran. Talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad culminated in outcomes both symbolic (designating Multan and Rashtas sister cities) and substantive (pledging to boost bilateral trade from $1.2to $10 billion -- which would approach the $15 billion trade volume Pakistan seeks with China). On September 12, Gilani declared that his and Zardari's successive visits to Iran underscore the "highest importance"Islamabad places on relations with Tehran.
At first glance, Pakistan's courtship of Iran is puzzling. The two nations have rarely seen eye to eye in Afghanistan; Tehran has sided with the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban elements of the population (particularly Shia Hazaras), while Islamabad was once one of the fewnations to accord the Taliban full diplomatic recognition. Iran has also enjoyed a legacy of strong relations with India. Baluchistan province in Pakistan has long served as a sanctuary for Jundullah, an Iranian Baluch militant organization that Washington designates as a terrorist group and regularly attacks Iran's government and military. Perhaps most importantly, Shia Iran is regional rivals with Sunni Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan's most crucial allies.
However, the strategic sands in South Asia have begun to shift, creating new opportunities for Pakistan and Iran. The latter's view of the Afghan Taliban has softened, with some observers arguing that Tehran now perceives it less as a virulent Wahhabi Sunni threat, and more as a welcome anti-imperialist group that shares Iran's strong desire to expunge America's military footprint in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, India's relations with Iran have taken a tumble. Several times in recent years, India has backed American positions on U.N. Security Council resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency votes on Iran's nuclear program and human rights violations. Additionally, tighter international sanctions against Tehran have undercut India-Iran energy relations, a pillar of the bilateral relationship. India used to pay Tehran for crude imports through an opaque "clearing house" system, yet last December the sanctions prompted India to renounce this method and to request a more transparent arrangement. Tehran refused, and in July briefly suspended crude supplies to New Delhi. India immediately turned to Riyadh, concluding a deal this past summer that provided Indians with 3 million barrels of Saudi crude in August -- and sparked talk of a potential "strategic energy partnership" that could yield a 30-year oil supply contract.
Against this backdrop, Islamabad's diplomatic forays into Tehran can be seen as both politically and strategically driven. On the one hand, at a time of strained relations with Washington, Pakistan's government undoubtedly relishes the opportunity to thumb its nose at America by embracing what the latter regards as a pariah state. Pakistan may also wish to capitalize on Iran's pro-Pakistan gestures over the last year. These include the withering criticism Khamenei has directed at India's policies in Jammu and Kashmir, and the flood relief aid furnished byIran since last summer (Iran recently vowed to provide support to internally displaced persons (IDPs) until they are "completely rehabilitated").
Strategically speaking, deeper ties with Iran can enhance electricity-starved Pakistan's energy security. Islamabad is well aware that construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline has not begun, and has underscored its desire to expedite the construction of a pipeline with Iran -- which could be operational by 2015. The project is slated to provide 750 million cubic feet of natural gas toPakistan daily, and its power generation capacity is expected to approach 5,000 megawatts -- roughly equivalent to Pakistan's energy shortfall.
Furthermore, Pakistan badly needs allies in its efforts to forge a regional stability arrangement amenable to Pakistani interests, and it sees Iran as a key collaborator in formulating a political solution to the Afghanistan imbroglio.
It would be a mistake, however, to read these developments as the portent of a new strategic partnership. Pakistan's vital relationship with Saudi Arabia--undergirded by five decades of intelligence-sharing, military cooperation, and deep mutual trust -- precludes any such possibility. So does the House of Saud's largesse. According to the Center for Global Development, Riyadh's average annual grant assistance to Pakistan between 2004 and 2009 totaled nearly $140 million -- more than any other country aside from the United States. And the U.N. reported last November that the Saudis had provided $100 million in aid to deal withlast year's crippling floods -- again, more than any nation save America at the time.
The Pakistan-Saudi partnership has stayed strong even amid the geopolitically volatile Arab Spring. Recall how Pakistani organizations likely tied to the state dispatched security forces to Bahrain to help the Saudi-allied Sunni regime suppress anti-government protestors -- members of the country's Shia majority whose demonstrations have drawn strong support from Tehran. According to Al JazeeraEnglish, "at least 2500" former Pakistani servicemen deployed to Manama this spring, enlarging Bahrain's riot police and national guard by about 50 percent.Pakistan's decision reportedly prompted an infuriated Tehran to summon a high-level Iran-based Pakistani diplomat for an explanation.
Predictably, Zardari boarded a plane to Saudi Arabia soon after his return from Iran in July. His visit was billed as an effort to reduce tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, though it was likely also meant to assuage Riyadh's concerns about Pakistan's Iranian embrace. And if there was any lingering doubt about Pakistan's determination to smooth ruffled Saudi feathers, Gilani followed up with his own trip -- with the explicit objective of getting ties back on track. Predictably, he emerged from his meetings gushing rhetoric about the renewal of the partnership. Then, late last month, Riyadh committed 10 billion rupees (justover $114 million) to help repatriate IDPs in Pakistan's tribal areas, a gesture that Pakistani media identified as another sign of a revitalized relationship. And just a few days later, Riyadh officially endorsed the Taliban reconciliation process that Islamabad fervently supports. Tehran has not followed suit.
Tellingly, while Islamabad has soothed Riyadh,it has acted cautiously toward Tehran in recent days -- in deference to Saudi Arabia, but perhaps also to America. At the JEC meeting, Pakistan, "fearing the consequences" of international sanctions, demurred when Iran offered to help construct the Pakistan portion of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline. And Pakistani media reports now speculate that Washington may succeed in persuading Pakistan to abandon the pipeline altogether.
Foreign Minister Salehi and his delegation may have arrived in Pakistan last week laden with gifts and offerings, with Gilani impressively calling on Tehran barely 72 hours later. Yet at the end of the day, the Iranians will continue to play second fiddle to Saudi Arabia in Pakistan's strategic calculus.
MichaelKugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Centerfor Scholars. email@example.com
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Pakistan's 2011 census kicked off in April, but less than three months later, it is embroiled in controversy. Several members of the Sindh Census Monitoring Committee have rejected as "seriously flawed" the recently completed household count. They allege that census workers, directed by an unspecified "ethnic group," have counted Karachi's "inns, washrooms, and even electric poles" as households in an effort to dilute the city's native "Sindhi" presence.
These Census Monitoring Committee members are not the only Pakistani politicians to be concerned about the census. Pakistan is experiencing rapid urbanization; while a third of the country's people have long been rurally based, at least 50 percent of the population is expected to live in cities by the 2020s. Pakistan's political leadership draws much of its power from rural landholdings, power that could be greatly reduced if a census confirms this migration toward cities.
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While the unfolding disaster at Japan's Fukushima reactor riveted the world, Pakistan quietly observed an important milestone in its own nuclear power program. Pakistan's Chashma 2 nuclear power plant commenced operation and was connected to the electricity grid on March 15, just four days after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and initiated what is now one of the worst nuclear accidents on record. Last week, on the eve of his visit to China, Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani commissioned Chashma 2 and indicated that China would construct two additional nuclear reactors at the same site. With Pakistanis spending hours each day in the dark due to "load shedding," a euphemism for managed power outages, never has energy been more critical for Pakistan.
According to figures from the Pakistan Electric Power Company, Pakistan's current electricity supply deficit averages about 3000 megawatts, which is probably enough to power about 3 million households in Pakistan. This shortage exacts a high toll on the Pakistani people, especially in the summer when temperatures can exceed 115 degrees. The more insidious effects of Pakistan's electric shortfalls are economic. The country now finds itself in a catch 22: the moribund economy limits large investments in new or rehabilitated electric generation capacity, but won't register dramatic improvement without more and consistent electricity.
Pakistan's ability to meet its energy requirements indigenously is constrained by the relatively poor quality of its coal, the feast or famine nature of hydroelectric power in a monsoon climate, and the political and security challenges of tapping effectively the natural gas reserves in its Baluchistan province. Pakistan will have to seek energy security through a mixture of external and internal sources. As one element of a long-term plan for energy diversity, nuclear power makes sense for Pakistan, as it does for many states. But it is an ineffective solution to Pakistan's current energy needs.
It's official: If there's a coal mine disaster in Pakistan and no television to cover it, no one can hear a sound.
Recently a series of blasts caused by the accumulation of methane gas resulted in the underground death of 43 coal miners in the Sorang area of Baluchistan. Baluchistan is the largest and least "developed" of Pakistan's five provinces, and the mine is located about 25 kilometers from the provincial capital Quetta.
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Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part seriesfocusing on aid provision in conflict zones, with tomorrow's edition to focuson Afghanistan.
Although the White House was cautiously optimistic in itsrecent strategy review on Afghanistan, even for seasoned AfPak watchers, itcan be difficult to discern exactly what the U.S. strategy istowards Afghanistan. The sound bite summary "clear, hold, build" may besimplistic, but it still offers a useful starting place to evaluate U.S. andNATO efforts. The "clear" and "hold" represent the straightforward ideas (intheory if not execution) of taking and holding ground, operations with whichmilitaries are well-acquainted. The real issue, and the key to success orfailure, is defining what "build" really means, and examining how the United States andNATO are "building" in Afghanistan.
While many factors in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, for thatmatter) are unique, in a larger sense, the challenges faced there are the sameissues, with new faces, that the United States has been long been struggling with inother countries. The U.S. government clearly hopes to "build" the Afghangovernment and military up to the point that it will take the lead in battlingthe Taliban. For decades now, in countries around the world, the tool mostfrequently called on to "build" countries is aid. Sometimes aid comes in theform of humanitarian, short-term assistance, i.e. emergency food, medicine,water, and shelter, aimed at stabilizing crisis situations. In other cases, aidcomes in the form of "official development assistance" or ODA, most often adirect cash transfer from a donor government or donor institution to arecipient country, usually in the form of grants or low-interest loans, andaimed at promoting long-term growth by developing infrastructure, education,and more. In the case of Afghanistan (and Pakistan), aid to the region hasconsisted of a mixture of both humanitarian and strategic (ODA) aid.
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Last Tuesday afternoon, I spoke to a Dawn reporter who hadn't been able to eat breakfast that day because there is no wood-fired stove in his house. He hadn't had a cup of tea or been able to take a shower, and had no heating in below-freezing temperatures. That night he was only able to e-mail in part of his newspaper story because of a severe power outage, eventually giving up and relaying it on the phone after midnight.
He wasn't reporting from a small village in a remote part of Pakistan. He lives in Quetta, a provincial capital and a rare oasis of some development in a largely barren, forgotten Baluchistan. And almost a week later, large sections of his gas-rich province still don't have enough of the fuel to cook properly or heat water and are facing several hours without electricity every day.
Those sections of Baluchistan, that is, that had access to either of these luxuries before a series of attacks on gas and electricity infrastructure brought the province to a standstill. From January 9 through February 13, nearly 25 gas pipelines have been blown up, largely in the eastern districts that are criss-crossed by a network transporting gas found in Baluchistan to other parts of the province and the country. About 7 other gas facilities, mostly wells, 9 electricity pylons and a power plant have also been attacked successfully. The Baluch Republican Army, an ethnic separatist group, has claimed responsibility for a number of these incidents.
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Pakistan, which culminated today in a full schedule of official meetings and town hall appearances, was the United States' best chance to hit the reset button with the Pakistani people. Clinton arrived with a long list of ‘deliverables' -- a total of $500 million in new development projects, aligned with the priorities of the Pakistani government. And she was clear on what that aid was intended to accomplish. At one town hall meeting today, she used the metaphor of a rocket to illustrate her mission: "We're trying to escape the bonds of gravity, leave behind an era of mistrust and launch a new period of cooperation."
But the United States is not loved in Pakistan, and even those Pakistanis who heard what Clinton had to say are likely to be skeptical. They can see clearly the pressure the United States is placing on the Pakistani government to do more to rein in the Haqqani network and other extremist groups. They may well doubt that the United States has the political and financial will to back its commitment to development support. Even the $7.5 billion of aid authorized over five years by the Kerry-Lugar legislation must be appropriated and spent one year at a time, after all. And the U.S. has a history of abandoning aid commitments to Pakistan when incoming governments violated nuclear norms, or when a bulwark against communism didn't seem to matter as much. As understandable as some of these decisions were at the time, they seem to make it clear that U.S. development aid was driven as much or more by diplomatic imperatives as by a long-run development vision for the Pakistani people.
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