ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is reaching out to its neighbor, Iran, for cooperation on energy and security, despite ongoing international attempts to isolate Tehran for its nuclear program. The latest talks between the two countries on a proposed gas pipeline that could aggravate Pakistani ties with the United States.
In recent days, officials in Islamabad have had talks with their Tehran counterparts on the construction of a $1.5 billion gas pipeline from Iran that would help ease acute energy shortages in Pakistan. This week, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also signed a security deal between the two countries to tighten security along their borders.
The agreements point to closer relations at a time when the United States and the international community have imposed stringent economic sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program
Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful. But, the West fears Iran is building nuclear weapon capability.
The international sanctions affect companies doing business with Tehran, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rian Harris said.
"We have made it clear to all of our interlocutors around the world that it is in their interests to avoid activities that may be prohibited by U.N. sanctions or sanctionable under U.S. law," he said.
Harris said the United States believes there are alternative long-term energy solutions for Pakistan, such as a planned pipeline through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. She pointed out that Washington is funding large-scale hydropower and thermal energy projects in Pakistan to help meet the chronic shortages.
The Iran-Pakistan pipeline has been under discussion for a decade, but the past weeks have seen delegations from Tehran arriving in Islamabad to finalize the deal. Local media reports say the negotiations are still stalled about gas prices and the financing of Pakistan's section of the line.
Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political science professor at Lahore University, says that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's efforts to complete the deal with Iran have more to do with election year politics than energy solutions.
The government, which is facing elections in the coming months, has come under heavy criticism for its inability to end crippling energy shortages around the country. There are questions about whether Iran can guarantee supplies and fixed prices, said Rais, but also concerns about the political cost of such a deal.
"How the Pakistani economy, which depends on International Monetary Fund and United States assistance, and also from European countries, how then is Pakistan going to cope with that? Therefore, this decision is very much controversial," he added.
Rais said Pakistan's political and business power brokers have no desire to estrange the international community in favor of Iran.