Sunday, April 14, 2013

Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Qatar: Pipelineistan at work

Many, if not all, of the readers here should be very familiar with this topic. If not, you may have some serious catching up to do.
The competing pipeline strategies have been a constant through all the Eurasian machinations.
Disclaimer: Yes, it is from Pepe Escobar....who adheres to all ‘official’ narratives.
However the pipeline work is excellent and jibes with so much of the information on this blog that this article begs for posting. So, here it is.

Construction is nearing completion on a natural gas pipeline linking Iran and Pakistan, a project that portends a huge geopolitical shift. As regional powers strengthen ties in this key energy market, they're looking to China, and away from the West.

  • Since the early 2000s, analysts and diplomats across Asia have been dreaming of a future Asian Energy Security Grid.

This – among other developments – is what it’s all about, the conclusion of the final stretch of the $7.5 billion, 1,100-mile natural gas Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, starting from Iran’s giant South Pars field in the Persian Gulf, and expected to be online by the end of 2014.

Nobody lost money betting on Washington’s reaction; IP would put Islamabad in “violation of United Nations sanctions over [Iran’s] nuclear program.” Yet this has nothing to do with the UN, but with US sanctions made up by Congress and the Treasury Department.

Sanctions? What sanctions? Islamabad badly needs energy. China badly needs energy. And India will be extremely tempted to follow, especially when IP reaches Lahore, which is only 100 km from the Indian border. India, by the way, already imports Iranian oil and is not sanctioned for it.

All aboard the win-win train

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Pakistani President Asif Zardari met at the Iranian port of Chabahar in early March, that was a long way after IP was first considered in 1994 – then as Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI), also known as the 'peace pipeline.'  Subsequent pressure by both Bush administrations was so overwhelming that India abandoned the idea in 2009.

IP is what the Chinese call a win-win deal. The Iranian stretch is already finished. Aware of Islamabad’s immense cash flow problems, Tehran is loaning it $500 million, and Islamabad will come up with $1 billion to finish the Pakistani section. It’s enlightening to note that Tehran only agreed to the loan after Islamabad certified it won’t back out (unlike India) under Washington pressure.

IP, as a key umbilical (steel) cord, makes a mockery of the artificial – US-encouraged – Sunni-Shia divide. Tehran needs the windfall, and the enhanced influence in South Asia. Ahmadinejad even cracked that “with natural gas, you cannot make atomic bombs.”

Zardari, for his part, boosted his profile ahead of Pakistan’s elections on May 11. With IP pumping 750 million cubic feet of natural gas into the Pakistani economy everyday, power cuts will fade, and factories won’t close. Pakistan has no oil. It may have huge potential for solar and wind energy, but no investment capital and knowhow to develop them.

Politically, snubbing Washington is a certified hit all across Pakistan, especially after the territorial invasion linked to the 2011 targeted assassination of Bin Laden, plus Obama and the CIA’s non-stop drone wars in the tribal areas.

Moreover, Islamabad will need close cooperation with Tehran to assert a measure of control of Afghanistan after 2014. Otherwise an India-Iran alliance will be in the driver’s seat.
Washington’s suggestion of a Plan B amounted to vague promises to help building hydroelectric dams; and yet another push for that ultimate 'Pipelineistan' desert mirage – the which has existed only on paper since the Bill Clinton era.

The Foreign Office in Islamabad argued for Washington to at least try to show some understanding. As for the lively Pakistani press, it is having none of it.

This photograph taken on February 12, 2013 shows the construction site at Gwadar port in the Arabian Sea

 The big winner is… China

IP is already a star protagonist of the New Silk Road(s) – the real thing, not a figment of Hillary Clinton’s imagination. And then there’s the ultra-juicy, strategic Gwadar question.

Islamabad decided not only to hand over operational control of the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, in ultra-sensitive southwest Balochistan, (cue: Balochistan separatist movement) to China; crucially, Islamabad and Beijing also signed a deal to build a $4 billion, 400,000 barrels-a-day oil refinery, the largest in Pakistan. (Gwadar/Balochistan: crucial)

Gwadar, a deepwater port, was built by China, but until recently, the port's administration was Singaporean.

The long-term Chinese master plan is a beauty. The next step after the oil refinery would be to lay out an oil pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang, (cue the separatist Uygher movement) parallel to the Karakoram highway, thus configuring Gwadar as a key Pipelineistan node distributing Persian Gulf oil and gas to Western China – and finally escaping Beijing’s Hormuz dilemma.

Gwadar, strategically located at the confluence of Southwest and South Asia, with Central Asia not that far, is bound to finally emerge as an oil and gas hub and petrochemical center – with Pakistan as a crucial energy corridor linking Iran with China. All that, of course, assuming that the CIA(Mossad/UK intel) does not set Balochistan on fire.

The inevitable short-term result anyway is that Washington’s sanctions obsession is about to be put to rest at the bottom of the Arabian Sea, not far from Osama bin Laden’s corpse. And with IP probably becoming IPC – with the addition of China – India may even wake up, smell the gas, and try to revive the initial IPI idea.

The Syrian Pipelineistan angle

This graphic Iranian success in South Asia contrasts with its predicament in Southwest Asia.

The South Pars gas fields –  the largest in the world – are shared by Iran and Qatar. Tehran and Doha have developed an extremely tricky relationship, mixing cooperation and hardcore competition.

The key (unstated) reason for Qatar to be so obsessed by regime change in Syria is to kill the $10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, which was agreed upon in July 2011. The same applies to Turkey, because this pipeline would bypass Ankara, which always bills itself as the key energy crossroads between East and West.


It’s crucial to remember that the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline is as anathema to Washington as IP. The difference is that Washington in this case can count on its allies Qatar and Turkey to sabotage the whole deal.

This means sabotaging not only Iran but also the 'Four Seas' strategy announced by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2009, according to which Damascus should become a Pipelineistan hub connected to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The strategy spells out a Syria intimately connected with Iranian – and not Qatari energy flows. Iran-Iraq-Syria is known in the region as the 'friendship pipeline.' Typically, Western corporate media derides it as an 'Islamic' pipeline. (So Saudi pipelines are what, Catholic?) What makes it even more ridiculous is that gas in this pipeline would flow to Syria and then Lebanon –  and from there to energy-starved European markets close by.

The Pipelineistan games get even more complicated when we add the messy Iraqi Kurdistan/Turkey energy love affair – detailed here by Erimtan Can – and the recent gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean involving territorial waters of Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria; ( I relinked the 3 part series on this topic below) some, or perhaps all of these actors could turn from energy importers to energy exporters.

Israel will have a clear option to send its gas via a pipeline to Turkey, and then export it to Europe; that goes a long way to explain the recent phone call schmoozing between Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan and Israel’s Netanyahu, brokered by Obama.
Terrestrial and maritime borders between Israel and Lebanon remain dependent on a hazy UN Blue Line, set up way back in 2000. Damascus – as well as Tehran –  supports Beirut, once again against Washington’s will. And Damascus also supports Baghdad’s strategy of diversifying its means of distribution, once again trying to escape the Strait of Hormuz. Thus, the importance of the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline.
No wonder Syria is a red line for Tehran. Now the whole of Pipelineistan will be watching how far Qatar is willing to go following Washington's obsession.

If you are not remotely familiar with  any or all the above information, first of all, shame on you for not being a long time reader!
Secondly, you got a lot of catching up to do!

From now back to then, not including all points in between

03/13: Part 1:Cyprus, Israel,Turkey, Syria: NATO and global resource diversion/control

03/13:  Part 2:Cyprus, Israel,Turkey, Syria: NATO and global resource diversion/control

04/13: Part 3- Cyprus, Israel, Turkey, Syria: NATO and global resource diversion/control”

07/11:Pipeline Politics etc., India and Pakistan join the Shanghai Cooperative

07/11 : Energy wars and the destabilization of Syria- Geopolitics at it's worst

06/2011:  Assad's "Four Seas Strategy" Damascus converges with China

09/08 : Asia's new 'great game' is all about pipelines
Likely, there are many, many more posts on the blog regarding the duelling pipelines.
But, I don't want to overwhelm anybody.


  1. Love the focus on this topic Penny.

    Lots of busy beavers it seems. And what about Israel? Israeli Natural Gas Lines is raising money:

    INGL is working on other natural gas projects that could cost as much as $15 million to fund, Chaimovski said. About two- thirds of that would be spent on a terminal to export gas to Middle East neighbors, Asia and Europe, he said.

    “Export is essential to bring investors,” Chaimovski said. “There’s no way the government can spend $10 billion, and this will have to be done with large and trustful partners.”

    INGL also plans to start construction this year of a maritime grid in the Mediterranean where developers can lease space and have pipelines transport the gas for them. Another project under way is a storage solution for the gas, he said.

    And there does appear to be one pipeline already in place to deliver oil to Asia and Africa via Israel, the Trans-Israel pipeline:

    1. Israel is not relevant to the Iran/Pakistan pipeline to China.

      Yes, there are many, many busy beavers
      Hence all the hedging by interested parties

  2. "Disclaimer: Yes, it is from Pepe Escobar....who adheres to all ‘official’ narratives.
    However the pipeline work is excellent and jibes with so much of the information on this blog that this article begs for posting."

    "Pipelineistan". :)

    I remember back before the Iraq war reading Escobar's work on the Afghan pipeline projects at Asia times. Good stuff, in itself, and Spengler's nonsense aside, I was surprised at how much better Asia Times was that the usual American media propaganda. Thought the same of such houses as the UK's Independent and Guardian, and Germany's der Speigel. Compared to rubbish like the NYT and WP, these seemed like a breath of fresh air, and Escobar's analysis appeared to be right on target. Later, as I reviewed more views, I recognised Escobar's failings, though later than I recognised those of the above mentioned news sources. Agree, Escobar is still useful as an introduction to understanding the pipeline politics.

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  3. Here are few other useful articles that provide relevant info regarding the IP line and the various other regional projects and the geopolitics surrounding them. I'll give each their own post with a short excerpt.

    War of pipelines

    "From the very beginning, the US and its allies wanted Pakistan to abandon the project with Iran, which wants to diversify gas sales to Asian markets. Tehran’s projection of IP as a “peace pipeline” has the support of Russia and China. While regional powers desire to find a stable, reliable source of gas supplies, America and allies want to destabilise the entire region using militancy as a tool. The tussle over the Iran-Pakistan gas project and Tapi is not a mere economic battle but has far-reaching geopolitical dimensions.

    It is a matter of record that the US and its Nato allies had decided to invade Afghanistan much before 9/11. The decision to this effect was taken in Berlin during the joint meeting of the council of ministers held in November 2000 in the wake of apprehensions regarding Tapi, in which powerful corporate entities, which actually rule the US and other capitalist countries, had financial interests. George W Bush appointed Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, former aide to the American oil company Unocal, as special envoy to Afghanistan, nine days after the US-backed interim government of Hamid Karzai took office in Kabul. This appointment underscored the real economic and financial interests at stake in the US military intervention in Central Asia."

    Dating from last December, this report doesn't take into account the most recent developments, so the "doldrums" description of the IP project near the beginning of it is no longer accurate.

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  4. Next: this one expands the pivotal role of Balochistan in the regional geopolitics with regard to IP and beyond.

    Balochistan: Crossroads of Proxy War 05-30-12

    "Location, Location, Location

    Balochistan is located in one of the most geographically and politically significant places anywhere in the world. Not only does the region sit astride three countries which have become central to Western political and military power projection, it is also central to the development and export of energy from Central Asia, access to the Indian Ocean, and a host of other geopolitical imperatives for both the West and the SCO/BRICS countries. Because of this, the region has grown exponentially in importance to all the major powers of the world."

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  5. This article is full of a lot of detailed data on the IP pipeline itself and it's history.

    In Depth: Iran-Pakistani Pipeline and Largest Iranian Refinery in Pakistan Inches From Reality

    "OPERATION ENDURING TURMOIL: The U.S. Strategy drawn up by Neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) to contain China via destabilization of Balochistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Balochistan, is one of the four provinces of Pakistan. It is the largest province by area, constituting approximately 44% of Pakistan’s total land mass, and the smallest in terms of population. Why Baluchistan? Gwadar in the southwest serves as a Chinese port and the starting point for a logistical corridor through Pakistan and into Chinese territory. The Iranian-Pakistani-Indian pipeline would enter from the west, cross through Baluchistan intersecting China’s proposed logistical route to the northern border, and continue on to India. Destabilizing Baluchistan would effectively derail the geopolitical aspirations of four nations.

    Defying the US pressure, Islamabad and Tehran signed a US$7.5 billion (Dh27.54bn) agreement in Tehran on May 23 2009, finalising the deal to transfer gas from Iran to Pakistan. Exactly one week later, Iran closed its border with Pakistan after a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in Zahidan that caused 20 deaths and many injuries. Jundallah claimed responsibility for the blast."

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  6. Thanks bot tak

    Balochistan is pivotal

    I have some other posts on Paksitan and that area including the attack on the military base?
    Do you recall that one?

    Pakistan has lost almost half of its sophisticated long-range maritime snooping and strike capabilities in just one well-targeted attack"

    "It's quite a significant loss for Pakistan Navy...almost 50% of its long-range maritime patrol capabilities has suddenly been taken out," said an Indian Navy officer.

    Balochistan also has significant mineral resources

    1. Penny

      "Do you recall that one?"

      I missed that. Interesting.

      BTW, nice work, both then, and now. This entry of yours covers a lot of ground.

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  7. The following article puts the input of the usual suspect on this matter in perspective.

    The Art of Warfare : Iran and The Gas Pipeline Battle

    "Two major pipeline projects are at present vying to secure future energy supplies to Pakistan, India and China. One originates in Iran while the second one draws on reserves in Turkmenistan. The latter is promoted by an Israeli group and is supported by Secretary of State Clinton. According to Manlio Dinucci, an attack against Iran could cripple the Iranian project, which is currently ahead of the game. The question remains whether US leaders are still really in line with this strategy, as hinted in recent statements by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta."

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  8. Penny

    You probably are aware of FW Engdahl's work on central Asian energy geopolitics, but just in case you have not heard of him, or anybody else here who may not have, here is a couple links to sites that contain a lot of his work:

    He's been covering this subject for many years and has written extensively on Central Asian energy geopolitics - "the great game". I've found his work very informative over the years.

    Also, Nazemroaya has nice piece covering the "great game" basics that is a decent reference.

    The "Great Game" and the Conquest of Eurasia: Towards a World War III Scenario?

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