Friday, February 22, 2008

LET THE PEACE PIPELINE GO TO CHINA

Pakistan it seems is trying every subtle trick in the book to get India to take the Iranian gas which will flow in a pipeline to India through 704 kilometers of Pakistani territory in the states of Baluchistan and Sind. As per a news item in The Indian Express, China has said that it was interested in importing the additional gas originally meant for India if India did not join the project.

Is not that rider strange? It is fine by China if India gets the gas through Pakistan but China will need it only if India did not want it! Why are both the Chinese and the Pakistanis being so considerate to India’s energy needs?

I had, in an earlier post, brought out at length the grave security risks that India would expose itself to if it agreed to the proposed gas pipeline being touted as a “peace pipeline” by Pakistan. Earlier, the then Petroleum Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyer, was so aggressively promoting this pipeline that it would have been well on the way to becoming a reality had he still been the minister. He could never visualize any strategic threat to India from Pakistan because of the pipeline; the only danger he innocently saw was the possibility of militants blowing up the pipeline, to prevent which he proposed what he termed “crowd cover” to the pipeline by routing it through thickly populated parts of Baluchistan and Sind. 704 kilometers of non-stop crowd cover! Geography, anyone?

As per some reports, the proposed pipeline will carry 150 million cubic meters of gas per day out which two thirds will be for India. When fully operational, it will contribute towards generation of additional revenue of $10 billion per annum in North India. That part of the country will then become critically energy dependent on this gas and its economy will not be in a position to bear any disruption in its supply.

India may not have realized the strategic advantage that will accrue to Pakistan if gas flows to India through that country, but Pakistan realized it long back. President Musharraf, a military man, familiar with subtle strategic matters, is not one to miss advantages which stare you in the face. Way back on June 23, 2000, he made a telling remark in reference to the pipeline: “God has given us this strategic location, the importance of which is fully emerging now.”

As I have highlighted in detail in my previous post, it is not without reason that Bangladesh, which has no outstanding disputes with India, has placed impossible conditions on India to allow a similar pipeline from Myanmar through its territory. Pakistan, India’s traditionally hostile neighbour, with a host of serious outstanding disputes, including the mother of them all, Kashmir, is surprisingly laying out the red carpet for the Iran pipeline!

Now even the Chinese are playing the good neighbours by offering to take the gas only if India does not want it! That is not the way the Chinese go about getting what they really want; that is the way they go about fooling unsuspecting neighbours into doing what they want them to do!

So, if the Chinese really want the Iranian gas through a pipeline which will pass through almost the whole of Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir, cutting across extremely difficult terrain, India should be mighty pleased! The vulnerability that India would have been exposed to will be transferred in part to China and India will gain a strategic advantage, virtually overlooking the pipeline through much of its journey before it reaches China. In addition, the heavy additional cost of laying the pipeline may even otherwise make it uneconomical for China.

If China still wants the peace pipeline, India should let it go there without delay!