Iranian officials have expressed their concern over the fact that the construction of a bilateral Iran-Pakistan pipeline has stalled from the Pakistani side. While the Iranian side is nearly complete, Iran’s Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh has stated that if Pakistan refuses to re-start construction on its side of the border, Iran will have no choice but to lodge a formal legal complaint against Islamabad.
Pakistan and Iran continue to mend ties in what was once a very healthy relationship. While the row over the pipeline could potentially cause an upset in this process, the generally constructive yet understandably exasperated attitude of Iran could in fact lead to a win-win solution, should China become involved as an arbitrator and investor in the project.
The official website of Iran’s Leader has just published a series of remarks in which Ayatollah Khamenei links the struggle for Palestinian freedom to the struggle for Kashmiri freedom. In doing so, he has linked a cause close to the hearts of Pakistanis with the wider pan-Islamic struggle for Palestine. As Iran is among Palestine’s strongest supporters in the world, making this link between Palestine and Kashmir is a clear indication that Iran values an issue of conscience in which Pakistanis have a polar view to that of the Indian government which treats Kashmir like its own “Israel”. While the Leader’s remarks are sincere and based on the reality of two people’s struggle for freedom and justice, the remarks also have the added geopolitical benefit of representing a soft-power olive branch to Pakistan, the traditional international champion of Kashmiri freedom.
Turning to the Pakistani side, the stalled pipeline is not a sign of anti-Iranian feeling in Islamabad, but rather it is a sign that Pakistan’s re-emergence as an important player in the multipolar world is an ongoing process and is at times, progressing asymmetrically in respect of Islamabad’s embrace of its new geopolitical position. There are also issues of apolitical corruption and lack of organisation that ought to be taken into account before anyone can accuse Islamabad of stalling the project out of some bewitched feelings towards Iran, America’s nemesis.
The clear solution for the pipeline issue, is for both Iran and Pakistan to invite China to mediate in the conflict. China continues to be Pakistan’s most important partner and considering that the Iranian pipeline will enter Pakistan on a route which will make it easy to supply the Chinese built port at Gwadar with additional energy, existing Chinese investments in the region could easily benefit from a fresh injection of Iranian gas. If China agreed to assist Pakistan in the completion of the pipeline, it would easily satisfy Iranian concerns over the stalled project, while also helping to tie both countries together under the auspices of Chinese cooperation. If the project is successful, it could pave the way for further Chinese initiatives involving both Pakistan and Iran, not least in the necessary and desirable endeavour to help link the Pakistani port at Gwadar with Iran’s Chabahar port, thus creating ‘two terminals’ in a united port system which itself would link the Indian Ocean with the Gulf of Oman.
While China is said to have “abandoned” the project in 2014, four years later and with Iran showing great initiative in the project, China could easily come back on board due to the added incentive of China’s One Belt–One Road benefiting greatly from an increased atmosphere of trust and cooperation between Tehran and Islamabad.
As a peaceful superpower whose interests are in pursuing win-win economic relationships across the world, China is in a unique position to help foment the restoration of meaningful positive ties between Iran and Pakistan. Such a reality would have no drawbacks for any of the parties involved.