Zardari Quoted as Calling Critics of Pakistan-Iran Pipeline ‘Enemies of Islam’

March 1, 2013 - 5:31 AM

Iran pipeline

Energy-hungry Pakistan and natural gas-rich Iran are racing ahead with the long-delayed pipeline project, which the National Iranian Gas Company chief said Thursday should be completed in 22 months. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The State Department has warned Pakistan to avoid activity that could result in sanctions after President Asif Ali Zardari visited Tehran to push ahead with plans for an Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Zardari was quoted as shrugging off Western opposition and saying that “nations have learned what to do in response to the enemies of Islam.”

Energy-hungry Pakistan and natural gas-rich Iran are racing ahead with the long-delayed project, which the National Iranian Gas Company chief said Thursday should be completed in 22 months. Reports in Pakistan suggested that could be cut to around 15 months.

The pipeline, designed to carry 21.5 million cubic meters of natural gas a day from Iran’s giant South Pars gas field, will cross the international border and continue into Pakistan’s south-western Balochistan province.

Construction of the Iranian segment, more than half of the total, is already virtually complete, and the Karachi daily Dawn reported on Friday that the Pakistani and Iranian presidents will take part in a groundbreaking ceremony for the remaining work, at the border on March 11.

“We recognize that Pakistan has significant energy requirements, but we really think there are other long-term solutions to Pakistan’s energy needs,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told a briefing, adding that the U.S. was helping Islamabad with some long-term energy projects.

“It’s in their best interest to avoid any sanctionable activity,” he said.

Ventrell said it was difficult for him to say for certain whether the building the pipeline would of itself trigger sanctions.

The 1996 Iran Sanctions Act provides for sanctions against anyone investing $20 million or more in Iran’s energy sector, a measure that was  expanded in the 2010 Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. The 2012 Iran Threat Reduction Act closed loopholes in the earlier legislation, providing additional penalties for those helping Iran’s gas, oil, financial and shipping sectors.

Washington has for years urged Pakistan not to cooperate with Iran by going ahead with the pipeline plan while the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities remains unsettled. But the deal was inked in February and Zardari traveled to Iran this week for two days of talks with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Khamenei’s official website said he told Zardari that “the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is an important example of Tehran-Islamabad cooperation, and despite hostilities towards the expansion of ties we must overcome this opposition decisively.”

“Creating discord among Islamic countries is one of the major plans of the Zionists and other arrogant powers,” he said.

The site quoted Zardari as responding that efforts by “certain international and regional actors” to prevent closer ties between Iran and Pakistan were failing, and that “nations have learned what to do in response to the enemies of Islam.”

Pakistan has received more than $20 billion in military and non-military aid from the United States since 2001, and the administration’s fiscal year 2013 request for Pakistan totals $2.4 billion.

In his former capacity as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry was a firm supporter of the aid.

The Lahore Daily Times in an editorial Friday welcomed the agreement with “brotherly neighbor” Iran.

“That Pakistan has mustered the strength to go against the U.S. and the U.N., both having Iran on their sanctions list, finally shows maturity dawning on the leadership on the criticality of the energy crisis facing the country,” it said.

“It is time for the U.S. also to understand Pakistan’s internal vulnerabilities, especially when terrorism has crippled its capacity to grow, the crisis in the energy sector has sapped its vitals and is the cause of the rising anger of citizens against the government.”

The independent Pakistan Today said the fact the plan is moving ahead “despite strong opposition from the U.S. is yet another indicator of the diminishing control of the superpower.”

“It is going to be difficult and painful but our foreign policy needs to evolve in a regional context and if in the short-to-medium term that gives Uncle Sam a headache then so be it,” opined The News of Karachi.

A note of caution came from the Peshawar Frontier Post, which warned that the agreement with Iran comes at “a price that Pakistan cannot afford at this point in time.”

In a Gallup survey released last month 92 percent of Pakistani respondents said they disapprove of American leadership, the highest disapproval rating among Pakistanis ever recorded by the polling firm.