India-Iran gas pipeline “infeasible” for now: US expert

By Mayank Chhaya, IANS,

Chicago : The proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is “absolutely infeasible” in the foreseeable future because financial, political, legal and security circumstances do not support it, a well-informed American expert says.

Support TwoCircles

“None of the three countries involved in the talks has the resources to fund the pipeline. There are serious security concerns, especially because it passes through Baluchistan in Pakistan. Virtually no public or private consortiums would want to build it because there is now also the issue of Iran’s nuclear quest,” Christine Faire, a senior political scientist at the think tank Rand Corporation, told IANS.

Asked why then there is such a sanguine mood in India, Iran and Pakistan about the pipeline, Faire said, “It is posturing about the future. From India’s point of view it is about locking in price and access in the future when Iran will have normalized its relations with the world. “She said when even former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, “the sanest of them all”, could not normalize relations with the world, it will be unrealistic to expect the current President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, or his future successor to do so that easily.

She also pointed out other seriously inhibiting factors such as the festering tensions between Pakistan and its province of Baluchistan. “No one believes that Pakistan will be able to deal with Baluchistan fairly,” she said. That, in her judgment, creates serious security challenges to the pipeline. “No fool would want to invest in such a project,” Faire said.

Other experts quoted on the National Public Radio also seemed to underscore either the unfeasibility or the unlikelihood of the pipeline in the foreseeable future. Some of them say perhaps even Iran itself will stall the pipeline project eventually.

Robert Johnston of the Eurasia Group was quoted as saying that the deal between Iran and India may not happen for at least a decade or two given the rising domestic demand in Iran. He said Iran will also have to take a strategic decision on how it wants to expand its gas production and which projects bring in most money. “Ultimately Iran will find better projects for its gas. Two other options which are most attractive are either developing pipelines to Western Europe via Turkey or developing the LNG (liquefied natural gas) market in Asia,” Johnston said.

Asked why despite all the uncertainty over it, the US was so anxious about the pipeline, Faire told IANS, “It is the symbolism of it all that rankles the US. The US has been wrestling with India’s relations with Iran.” In this context, she said while the Bush administration had decided to go ahead with the civilian nuclear deal with New Delhi by making a country-specific exception to the US non-proliferation laws, Congress was not convinced about it.

“Congress expects India to be sensitive to US concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” Faire said.

Mike Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), was quoted as saying, “Quiet diplomacy will be effective. If we are going to be too loud about it we would risk giving the opponents of close US-India ties a nice weapon to beat up the (Indian) government.”