Facing severe electricity shortages, Pakistan is looking to solve its energy problems by inking a deal with Qatar to have $2.5 billion of LNG shipped over. The FT reports:
“If we can provide gas to those of our power generation plants that run on gas, [electricity cuts] will go down by half,” said Mr Abbassi. Demand for natural gas in Pakistan, a country of 180m people, is estimated at 8bn cubic feet per day, double the amount produced locally from gas fields in the south of the country. […]The discussions with Qatar have deepened uncertainty over an earlier plan by Pakistan to build a pipeline to the Iranian border to import gas from Iran’s South Pars gas field. Mr Abbassi refused to comment on that project, and said only that “Pakistan will need more gas even after the LNG project. We are looking at all possible avenues.”
This is not just an energy story, but has many implications for the regional balance of power. Worried about the balance tilting Iran’s way, there are signs that Gulf Arabs are looking to use Pakistan as a counterweight. Pakistan is a heavily armed nuclear power with a Sunni majority population that is larger than Iran’s. On the other side, key Pakistani officials have long enjoyed extremely close relations with the Saudis, and there are persistent rumors that the Saudis have helped Pakistan’s nuclear program in the past. Mercenaries from Pakistan helped the Bahraini government hold the line against Shia protestors. Now a big gas deal with Qatar looks to be both getting Pakistan out of a tight energy fix and deflating the chances of a long proposed Iranian-Pakistani gas pipeline.People in the U.S. are used to thinking of the Gulf as the Middle East and Pakistan as part of South Asia; to people on the ground in that part of the world those boundaries are artificial. Deepening ties between the Gulf Arab states and Pakistan is one of the many consequences of the Obama administration’s regional diplomacy. Over time, this may turn out to be a historic shift. If nothing else, it adds conviction to the repeated Saudi threats that if Iran gets a bomb Riyadh will get one too. It’s also likely to cause trouble in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Pakistan’s Gulf allies are likely to be more comfortable with using the Taliban as a counterweight against Iran in Afghanistan than the US is.