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Two Lame Ducks and a Foolish Pipeline Project

On Monday, the FT reported that Pakistan and Iran had agreed to a $1.5 billion pipeline project stretching from Iran’s South Pars gas field all the way across the often-restive Baluchi areas of Pakistan. News footage showed Presidents Ahmadinejad and Zardari shaking hands at the border. The United States was not pleased:

“In the coming years as the war in Afghanistan is scaled down, the US will have the option of opposing Pakistan’s energy imports from Iran,” said one senior western diplomat in Islamabad. “This project will ultimately have consequences for Pakistan.”

“If this project actually goes forward, we have serious concerns that sanctions would be triggered,” said Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the US state department. “However, we’ve heard this pipeline announced about 10 or 15 times before in the past, so we have to see what actually happens.”

Before readers get too upset, here’s the key thing to remember: This appears to be more of a propaganda stunt than an actual step forward. The lame duck Presidents of Iran and Pakistan, both leaders of weak and unpopular governments with poor prospects in coming elections, are cooperating to make each other look good. Furthermore, by the time this thing is built, the US and Iran will have more than likely resolved their differences, one way or another. But even so, the projected pipeline will run through territory in both countries where Baluchi insurgents have historically been active and are likely to remain an irritant. On the merits, then, this project is perhaps not the smartest idea two countries have ever had.

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