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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Pakistan’s Energy Security and Geopolitical Challenges

In a complex web of diplomatic maneuvers and energy considerations, Pakistan's pursuit of energy security has been significantly influenced by shifting geopolitical dynamics. The aftermath of a post-modern coup and concerns over US sanctions have compelled Pakistan to reassess its energy partnerships, leading to potential ramifications for its sovereignty.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported early last week that Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik told the National Assembly that their country plans to suspend its obligation to purchase Iranian gas due to fear of US sanctions and that international arbitration will likely determine the penalty that they’ll pay. After the news broke, he then tried explaining away this scandal by insisting that his side is actively exploring “creative solutions” to avoid scrapping this decade-old pipeline, but the damage was already done.

No serious observer thought that Pakistan had the political will to defy the US on this issue after the post-modern coup that took place in April 2022. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan (IK) was ousted via superficially “democratic” means that were supported by the US as punishment for his multipolar policies. In particular, top regional diplomat Donald Lu expressed concern to the former Pakistani Ambassador the month prior about his country’s economic ties with Russia.

Read more: Pakistan, Iran agree to expand cooperation in diverse areas

The First Post-Coup Attack Against Pakistan’s Energy Security

This was confirmed by the cable that the Ambassador sent to Islamabad after their meeting, which was just leaked last week by The Intercept and analyzed here. Its relevance to the lede is that this document removes any doubt that the US is opposed to Pakistan obtaining energy security. Lu was reported by the Ambassador to have complained about the former premier’s trip to Moscow precisely because it “was for bilateral economic reasons” driven by IK’s desire to clinch a major energy deal with President Putin.

Seeing as how Pakistan’s pursuit of energy security via the aforementioned major deal with Russia that IK wanted to clinch in Moscow was one of the reasons why the US prioritized the post-modern coup against him, it, therefore, follows that it wouldn’t support Pakistan pursuing the same via Iran either. While it’s true that Pakistan recently imported Russian oil for the first time, this was with US approval out of desperation to see whether its proxy’s collapsing economy could be saved through these means.

Rethinking The Reasons Behind The Regime’s Import Of Russian Oil

There are several reasons, however, why it’s unlikely that IK’s envisaged energy deal will come to pass. First, Pakistan requires US approval to continue buying Russian resources, which can’t be taken for granted. Second, reliable Pakistani media recently reported about technical obstacles to these plans. Third, the latest release of IMF funds might have come with the unofficial condition of buying oil from elsewhere. And fourth, the initial purchase could have been political to deflect from IK’s accusations.

To elaborate, his replacements ran with the narrative shortly after receiving their first-ever import of Russian oil to claim that it allegedly puts to rest any speculation about them coming to power with US support as part of the latter’s plot to sabotage relations with Moscow. Their subsequent delay in setting up a “Special Purpose Vehicle” for taking their plans to the next level reinforces the suspicion that this purchase was largely for domestic political purposes, ergo another reason why the US approved it.

Read more: Iran-Taliban skirmishes and Pakistan’s ‘Afghanistan conundrum’

Rethinking The Reasons Behind Pakistan’s Pipeline Deal With Iran

Political motivations could also have been at play when Pakistan agreed to build a gas pipeline with Iran in 2013, which came amidst deteriorating ties with the US brought about by the Abbottabad raid in 2012 and NATO’s cross-border attack from Afghanistan the year prior in 2011. In this case, the purpose would have been to signal its displeasure with the US in the hopes of prompting it to initiate a meaningful rapprochement, not advancing a partisan agenda at home like its import of Russian oil did.

Nevertheless, the point is that the recent problems in finalizing an oil deal with Russia are eye-opening enough to inspire a rethinking of Pakistan’s calculations in agreeing to its gas pipeline deal with Iran a decade ago now that the latter is also on the rocks. The failure of either plan, let alone both, will harm the country’s energy security by depriving it of the opportunity to reliably receive low-cost oil and gas respectively.

Qatar’s Place In The US’ Post-Coup Strategy Towards Pakistan

Comparatively more expensive resources from the Gulf would then be the only realistic solution for meeting Pakistan’s needs, which seems to be exactly the outcome that the US wants since it prefers for Pakistan to receive them from those countries than from Russia and Iran.

The best-case scenario from the US perspective is for Pakistan to become dependent on Qatari LNG since Washington nowadays regards Doha as more geostrategically reliable in the New Cold War than Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

Towards A US-Led Qatari-Pakistani-Ukrainian Quadrilateral

Despite their sharp differences during the Trump Administration, they’ve since patched up their problems so well under the Biden one that the US Ambassador to Qatar bragged earlier in the month that “Our diplomatic ties are stronger than they have ever been.” This followed the Qatari Prime Minister’s visit to Kyiv in late July which came shortly after the Ukrainian Foreign Minister’s first-ever one to Islamabad just a week before, where he was suspected to have clinched another secret arms deal.

India’s Economic Times then reported last week that “Pakistan seeks Gulf state help for shipping weapons to Ukraine”. Although no country was named, the abovementioned sequence of events strongly suggests the formation of a US-led quadrilateral involving Qatar, Pakistan, and Ukraine, the first two of whom are already close energy partners. Bearing all this in mind, there’s reason to believe that Qatar might be the unnamed Gulf state in that Indian media report.

Accelerating The Erosion Of Pakistani Sovereignty

Oman cultivated a reputation for neutrality over the decades, which Saudi Arabia and the UAE are now emulating towards the NATO-Russian proxy war in Ukraine through their refusal to arm Kiev or sanction Russia. Bahrain and Kuwait, meanwhile, have always been comparatively smaller players in international affairs. By contrast, Qatar is known for the leading role that it played in the “Arab Spring”, and its attendant reputation for boldness and rapprochement with the US cast suspicion on it in this context.

All of this pertains to the lede since Pakistan would be forced to become more dependent on Qatari LNG if it officially scraps the gas pipeline deal with Iran, thus leading to higher financial costs and lesser sovereignty in the long run. The first consequence stands on its own but also segues into the second since it could lead to Pakistan needing endless IMF bailouts with all that entails for its sovereignty, not to mention the very high likelihood that Doha will exploit its energy role over Islamabad to others.

Read more: Pakistan mulling to purchase Iranian LPG with rupee

To wrap it all up, the post-modern coup that the US supported against IK in April 2022 was intended to deal a death blow to Pakistan’s sovereignty, and it arguably succeeded. That country’s energy security will now no longer be ensured by diversifying its portfolio with low-cost Russian and Iranian oil and gas imports respectively. This will force it to pay higher costs from other suppliers, which will keep it in a perpetual cycle of financial dependence on the IMF with all the associated political strings.

Moreover, considering the trend of many countries replacing oil with gas, Pakistan’s capitulation to US sanctions pressure and the resultant decision to pull out of its pipeline deal with Iran will make its energy security much more dependent on its already close Qatari industry partner. The emerging triangle between those two and the US could therefore lead to Pakistan entering into dual-vassal hood status vis-a-vis its “senior” partners, which would make it very difficult to ever regain its lost sovereignty.


Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The article has been republished and the views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.