Infamously controversial Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a brief visit to Pakistan today, where he met with President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in Islamabad during his four-hour stay. According to the Associated Press, “[The] Iranian and Pakistani leaders resolved issues related to a multibillion-dollar [$7.5 billion] gas pipeline project opposed by the United States during the Iranian president’s brief visit Monday to Pakistan…” The 2,600 km pipeline to India is expected “to earn Pakistan millions of dollars in transit fees,” reported BBC News today. The news agency cited the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), which reported that Iran also agreed to supply Pakistan with 1100 MW of electricity, an announcement that is significant in light of Pakistan’s recent power crisis, [see previous post on power riots in Multan].
Later on Monday, Ahmadinejad traveled to Sri Lanka, and will follow with another high-profile visit to India on Tuesday. Iran’s South Asia tour was described by the Christian Science Monitor as an “outreach strategy” aimed at both “making energy deals and curbing Western influence.” Although media outlets today emphasized the Pakistan leg of the tour, the Monitor noted Iran’s biggest challenge on the trip to counter U.S. influence and “rekindle diplomatic relations” would be with India.
M.J. Gohel, a security analyst and director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation in London, noted, “India is very short on energy, so there are economic reasons for India to maintain a working relationship with Iran…However India’s long-term and strategic relationship is definitely with Washington, and I think that has been made very, very clear.” Nevertheless, India does have a stake in the aforementioned gas pipeline, “which is meant to deliver 30 million cubic meters of Iranian gas daily each to Pakistan and India,” reported the Monitor. BBC News added,
The gas pipeline is seen as crucial for India which relies heavily on fuel imports for its fast-growing economy…Analysts say that the pipeline could also contribute to security as Iran, Pakistan and India benefit more by mutual co-operation.
Ultimately, Ahmadinejad’s visit holds deeper ramifications for the United States, who feels the pipeline deal will weaken its efforts to isolate Tehran. The Christian Science Monitor noted in its piece today, “Washington opposes the pipeline because of what it brings to Iran, despite benefits also for U.S. allies India and Pakistan.” CNN reported Monday that Washington has put both New Delhi and Islamabad under pressure not to sign any agreement with Iran, despite the economic and security benefits of the oft-labeled “peace pipeline.” In fact, the United States recently tried to “scuttle” the pipeline by reportedly offering India advanced nuclear technology to make up for the loss of Iranian gas. Nevertheless, CNN cited Iran’s “semi-official” news agency, Fars, which reported that India “recently declared its readiness to participate in the discussions on the pipeline after more than a year.” If this development has taught us anything, it’s that international deals, despite their security and economic benefits, can hold much larger geostrategic ramifications and dangers, causing its progress to therefore come to a standstill. [Image from Christian Science Monitor]