With Pakistan and Iran having signed the deal approving the building of Pakistan’s segment of the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) ‘Peace’ Pipeline on 30 January, the onus now falls on India to further the project in order to extend the pipeline into Indian territory all the way upto Delhi. The IPI project, if sanctioned, has the potential to provide abundant natural gas to energy-hungry India, as well as force India and Pakistan to cooperate on geostrategic issues, keeping their differences aside. Although India has been playing a delicate balancing act vis-a-vis its relations with Iran, especially after signing the 2008 nuclear deal with the US, it has mostly been towing the Washington line, as a result of which the IPI Pineline deal has been more or less stalled from the Indian side. The idea for the 2,775 km (approximately 1,100 km in Iran, 1,000 km in Pakistan and, if authorised, another 600 km in India) long pipeline was proposed way back in the 1950s by a Pakistani civil engineer Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan, which languished in the dark corridors of diplomatic neglect until 1995, when an MOU was signed to construct the pipeline between Pakistan and Iran. Since then, the pipeline project, estimated to cost around USD seven billion, has been seen as a possible fuel superhighway connecting South Pars gas field in Iran, via Bandar-Abbas, Khuzdar, Sui and Multan in Pakistan, with Delhi. However, diplomatic stalemate on the part of New Delhi, under the influence of a vehemently anti-Iran Washington, has kept plans of extending the construction of the pipeline into Indian soil from becoming a reality.
Now that Pakistan has refused to bow under US pressure, despite the latter’s persistent efforts to derail the project, and instead attract both Pakistan and India to invest in the alternative Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) in which the US has considerable stakes, India must show the political gumption to act in a non-partisan manner and give the project a firm go ahead. While India has been right to express security concerns, given that the IPI pipeline will be running along the insurgency-ridden Baluchistan region of Pakistan, Iran has, on more than one occasion, assured India of adequate security provisions. Although India would like to keep its oil and gas supplies as wide-ranging as possible, in order to retain its freedom for negotiations with all, dealing with Iran could ensure a daily supply of approximately 750 million cubic feet of natural gas and help forge a geostrategic partnership that could be the answer to India’s pressing energy needs. In case India continues to remain pusillanimous, and formally opts out of IPI, Iran can always approach China, which is more than willing to chip in. Further, with India’s interest to invest in the development of Iran’s Chabahar port, neglecting the Peace Pipeline project is likely to prove costly for India’s energy security.