Jan Achakzai |
The idea that Pakistan might start drilling hydrocarbon along Baluchistan Iran border sounds as far-fetched as a violation of secret understanding between Islamabad and Tehran. Being sometimes troublesome, often meddlesome, but still has a vested interest in its own security and prosperity, Iran is a neighbour of Pakistan with its almost 900 km stretching border.
As Baluchistan offers vast reserves of oil and gas, Pakistan imports nearly 80 percent of energy requirements from the international market. The country’s demand for energy has been increasing by 8 percent a year, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, the Petroleum Minister lamented. Whereas the Baluchistan province boasts, according to one estimate, out of Pakistan’s estimated 25.1 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven gas reserves, 19 trillion (Tcf) is located in Baluchistan.
Shah of Iran who was Pakistan’s very close friend and who was very generous towards Pakistan-the dynamic of the bilateral relations that completely changed after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
According to another estimate, out of the country’s proven oil reserves of 300 million barrels, largely are located in the province. Other sources place its oil reserves at an estimated six trillion barrels, both on-shore, and off-shore. Other statistics say around 50 billion barrels are in the form of shale reserves in the region. Barring Sui gas fields, no foreign or national drilling firm has been successful in drilling along Pakistan Iran border: one reason is cited security and the second reason is, no major oil company has been given license.
However, there is another context to the drilling in Baluchistan along the border region, i.e., Pakistan had allegedly struck a deal with Iran not to drill in its South West part—the reason was since Baluchistan drops away at around 200 feet from the plateau of Iran’s side, Tehran fears that some of the drillings in Baluchistan might attract the flow of Iranian oil into the province (Baluchistan). This understanding was allegedly given to the then Shah of Iran who was Pakistan’s very close friend and who was very generous towards Pakistan-the dynamic of the bilateral relations that completely changed after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Why drill oil now?
This is the right time to make the use of hydrocarbons which are rightly Pakistan’s—why right time? In order to fix the economic problems of Baluchistan, Islamabad needs to drill and drill the whole area in the province, including along Iran-Pakistan border region-hub of proven reserves. With the exploitation of oil, the problems not only of Baluchistan but also of the whole country will go away.
Baluchistan will become to Sistan-Baluchistan (Iranian province) what Texas is to Mexico today—one fully developed, the other remains poor. In other words, imagine if Balochistan becomes rich, what will Sistan do? It will fall under Islamabad’s influence. Pakistan can draw concessions through oil drilling companies from their respective countries.
The idea that Pakistan might start drilling hydrocarbon along Baluchistan Iran border sounds as far-fetched as a violation of secret understanding.
Imagine if Pakistan had 3 Squadrons of F-35 Stealth jets today? It is doable by leveraging the existing DC (the US) lobby networks of those oil companies Pakistan can bring to invest in Baluchistan hydrocarbon reserves.
Pakistan has got only 20-30 years to be able to sell oil and gas before economies start going non-oil. Iran is isolated, weak, sanctioned, is perpetually isolationist and now openly hostile. So Pakistan must use Iran sanctions to its advantage. If it does so, Islamabad will get the entire world lobby behind it.
Regional realities changing
As the regional realities are about to change, Pakistan gets a historic opportunity in real time and space to drill oil in Baluchistan, how?
From a strategic viewpoint, India-Afghanistan-Iran nexus will break by Afghanistan-Pakistan realignment in the post-US drawdown in Afghanistan. Islamabad will break the dependence of Afghanistan on Chabahar through reverting back its transit through Karachi and Gwadar, pull off the westward expansion of CEPC into Afghanistan hence Iran-Afghanistan alignment will not materialize as Delhi and Tehran want through Chabahar.
After the Taliban’s integration in Afghan dispensation, India will be further entangled in Kashmir as its heavy tactic will likely create more radicalized elements within and draw in more extremists freeing up from Syria and Afghanistan, allowing space for Pakistan to maneuver in Baluchistan from Indian proxy warfare.
Baluchistan will become to Sistan-Baluchistan (Iranian province) what is Taxes to Mexico today—one fully developed the other remains poor.
In the next two years, Pakistan will be relieved of any undue Washington’s pressure accrued by Indian lobby as Islamabad will facilitate American troops’ drawdown in Afghanistan and work through new oil network lobbies in DC to blunt any arm twisting coming Islamabad way.
CPEC would have already leveraged influence with Saudi Arabia and Russia as both countries have rushed in to invest in Pakistan’s energy market. Both countries are preparing for post-hydrocarbon economies.
In the next five years, Pakistan will start serving as an important strategic pivot to China’s BRI project and its expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean through rolling over the CPEC project and pinning down India in Kashmir by its diplomatic and political support of indigenous Kashmiri resistance.
Invite drilling giants
Pakistan’s petroleum ministry should invite summit of drilling giants and give countrywide drilling rights to drilling companies like Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Total, Gazprom China Oil and Aramco with one condition, i.e., to pair up with Pakistani firms of their choice and issue them exploration tenders. Pakistan should not be afraid of working with these companies: the key is to bring many of them from different countries. Pit their wits against each other in a competition under a carefully designed bidding scheme.
Prepare for geopolitical and geo-strategic fallout
Though Iran has no rationale to object to drilling in Baluchistan, it can negatively react to oil drilling in Baluchistan: it has already strongly objected to Saudi Arabia’s proposed investment in Baluchistan. However, for any reason if Iran targets Pakistan, the west will protect its investments in Baluchistan and they will not miss an opportunity to blunt off Iran’s misadventures/moves. If Tehran commits aggression against Pakistan in any shape and form, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will not sit on the fence while the world powers have an ax to grind.
Islamabad is aptly placed to leverage these forces for its advantage. But, if push comes to shove, we can execute a double cross: manoeuvre and proxy war—Pakistan does not need to prepare for proxy war. Instead, it can let its friends increase the threshold of escalation to a point where it is unsustainable for Iran. Another move is to install bases along the same belt. Allow regular air patrol to keep hostile forces on their toes.
From a strategic viewpoint, India-Afghanistan-Iran nexus will break by Afghanistan-Pakistan realignment in the post-US drawdown in Afghanistan.
In fact, one has to understand the bigger geopolitical environment: all powers which have an ax to grind against Iran will think of Pakistan as a useful ally and jump in to join against Tehran. Worst-case scenario, Iran will not attack a nuclear weapons state—a trump card Islamabad has. Or else give one night access to forces who want to blow up Natanz and Bushehr to increase cost making it unbeatable for Tehran.
Five years of strategy
This strategy should continue for five years by entertaining the major players as long as Pakistan retains instruments of control over the entire process. In this process, no foreign military bases should be allowed so the capability to cut all stakeholders to size is retained, so that Islamabad places itself over in the driving seat hence emerge as a bona fide regional power.
It is easy to deal with the world
It is always a ‘the-give-and-take’ principle that makes the world operate: We need to carefully learn from the Arab World’s prosperity—they bought peace from the west in exchange for buying their (west)’s military gadgets by oil money. Whereas the revolutionaries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Venezuela led their countries to destruction and mayhem. There has to be a limit as to how much you can hurt the West’s interests: We must strike a fair deal after becoming hydrocarbons’ hub. In other words, Pakistan’s strategy should be: “enrich the country; buy weapons from the west; and draw trade concessions in the process”.
Another move is to install bases along the same belt. Allow regular air patrol to keep hostile forces on their toes.
Unfortunately, Islamabad’s policies remain, for reasons of institutional inertia, too much informed by outmoded Cold War calculations aimed at containing a Soviet menace that no longer exists and hasn’t for a long time taken bold decisions. Here let us remind of ourselves how Portugal, a fishing state, became a superpower. But Germany, despite its technological miracle work didn’t. Mongol empire was run from a tent made of goatskin.
It comes down to strategy as Pakistan’s strength is its survival. “Hamara koi dost nahi,” remarked a nationalist Pakistan friend. Its figurative translation will be, “Islamabad has lost strategic sponsors and it is on its own in choppy waters” so we need hydrocarbons at all cost. The boldness of initiative is important just like Pakistan acquired nuclear capability against all odds through boldness and courage.
Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Baluchistan, and ex-advisor to the Baluchistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.