Away from the region’s headlines and wars, plans are being methodically put in place that could redraw the strategic map of the Middle East, erasing one of the region’s key colonial-era features.
Recent moves by Iran and Iraq to press ahead with the construction of a series of new oil and gas export pipelines could be attributed to Iran’s bid to counter international sanctions. The planned pipelines could also reflect Iraq’s economic recovery or perhaps pressure from oil companies for new export routes.
There may be some truth to these explanations. But a closer look makes clear that these schemes are related.
The short-term aims are evident. They include trying to lure Jordan into the region’s “resistance” axis and reducing American influence on Iran’s eastern neighbor Pakistan.
But the long-term objective is more ambitious: to connect the Middle East by way of a web of economic ties that binds them into a regional partnership whose mainstays are Iran and Iraq.
Baghdad is making it increasingly clear where it stands in terms of its regional alignment. In recent months, it has openly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus, clashed with Ankara, reached out to Cairo, and been at odds with Riyadh and Doha.
The pipeline schemes also underscore Iraq’s chosen course. The country has opted to assume a role consistent with its historical legacy and its economic and strategic clout.
Iran Lures Pakistan
The latest move in this regard was Monday’s pipeline inauguration by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The pipeline will transport Iranian natural gas to Asian markets via Pakistani territory, providing Pakistan with desperately needed energy supplies.
Negotiations between the two countries began almost a decade ago, but were frequently stalled due to opposition from the US. Washington has long sought to thwart any scheme for transporting oil and gas from or through Iran.
During that period, Iran completed its section of the pipeline from the Pars gas field in the south of the country to the Pakistani border town of Multan. It has a capacity of 750 million cubic meters per day.
Tehran has undertaken to cover a third of the $1.5 billion cost of the 780-km Pakistani section of the pipeline, with the Pakistani government funding the rest.
Wooing Jordan and Egypt
Meanwhile, Iraq and Jordan have begun work on building parallel oil and gas pipelines connecting southern Iraq to the Red Sea port of Aqaba, with the possibility of extending the link to Egypt.
The 1,690-km line, which will take two to three years to complete, is to run from Basra to Haditha west of Baghdad then into Jordanian territory and south to Aqaba. Contracts for the Jordanian portion are to be awarded to companies on a build-operate-transfer basis, with ownership reverting to the Iraqi government after 20 years.
Under the agreement, the oil pipeline will provide Jordan with 150,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day for domestic use at preferential prices (around $20 dollars per barrel below market). Apart from putting an end to Jordan’s chronic fuel crises, the scheme is expected to benefit the country to the tune of $3 billion per year.
A planned second phase of the project envisions the building of a western spur from Haditha through Syrian territory to pump 1.25 million barrels of oil per day to the Syrian Mediterranean port of Banias.
Meanwhile, plans are being developed for a 5,000-km link to transport Iranian gas to Iraq and Syria and on into Europe, providing Iran with an export route that bypasses the Gulf.
Iran and Iraq are due to sign an agreement on the first phase of the project on 20 March. This would enable Iran to pump 25 million cubic meters of gas a day to Iraq. Proposed extensions to the line envision it supplying Jordan and Lebanon with gas.
Iran shares the Pars field – the world’s largest gas field with an estimated 14 trillion cubic meters of gas, around 8 percent of total proven world reserves – with Qatar. The emirate recently unveiled its own plans for a pipeline to carry gas through Saudi, Jordanian, Syrian and Turkish territory to Europe.
- US threatens Pakistan with sanctions over gas pipeline deal with Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran-Iraq-Syria Gas Pipeline Project Agreement Finalized (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Zardari, Ahmedinijad inaugurate Pak-Iran gas pipeline project (nation.com.pk)
Pakistan has allowed four trucks containing office supplies for the US Embassy in Kabul to cross into Afghanistan, which is the first time the supply routes have been opened since Islamabad closed them six months ago.
Pakistani officials, speaking condition of anonymity, said that the four trucks recently crossed Pakistan’s Torkham border into Afghanistan, AFP reported on Friday.
“I can confirm that three trucks have gone to Afghanistan and there are also reports about the crossing of the fourth one on Friday,” said one of the officials.
Islamabad closed the border crossings used to transfer NATO supplies to landlocked Afghanistan in November 2011, after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in US-led airstrikes on two checkpoints on the Afghan border.
Pakistan has called on the United States to apologize for the November attack, but Washington has refused to do so.
Meanwhile, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has left the country and is traveling to the US at the invitation of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to attend the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago, during which he will discuss future ties with NATO countries.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is expected to extend an invitation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a brief visit to India.
According to Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit, Zardari is to formally invite Singh to Pakistan during his visit on Sunday.
Basit added that the brief visit was important because it is expected to “help translate the President’s vision of regional cooperation and connectivity”.
Although no particular agenda has been specified, Zardari and Singh are expected to hold talks on all bilateral and regional issues at the Prime Minister’s Race Course Road in New Delhi.
The Pakistani president’s visit has been scheduled for after his return from the 13th century shrine of Khawaja Ghareeb Nawaz in the city of Ajmer in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan.
The visit will be the first made to India by a Pakistani leader since former President Pervez Musharraf made an official visit to New Delhi in 2005.
Please also note that events scheduled for Saturday include a rally in New York at 12 noon, and a rally in Toronto (sisters only) at 6 pm. On Friday (March 30), there is also a rally in Fort Worth, Texas at 3.30 pm.
On Saturday, outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, I will be speaking at an event marking the ninth anniversary of the disappearance in Pakistan of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who vanished for five years and five months, and then mysteriously reappeared in Afghanistan in August 2008, where she was arrested, and then allegedly tried to shoot at the US soldiers who were holding her.
She was subsequently flown to New York, where, in September 2010, after a trial at which she did not appear to be well, although her mental health was not considered to be an issue worthy of scrutiny, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison, which she is serving in a notorious psychiatric prison, FMC Carswell, in Texas.
The rally outside the US Embassy, organized by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, takes place from 3 pm to 6 pm, and the speakers, and the timing of speeches, are as follows:
1510: Sultan Sabri (Croydon Muslim Association)
1520: Raza Karim
1530: Andy Worthington (journalist, author of The Guantánamo Files)
1540: Asif Hussain
1550: Raza Nadim (MPACUK – Muslim Public Affairs Committee)
1600: Sheikh Suliman Ghani (Imam, Tooting Islamic Centre)
1610: Anas Altikriti (Cordoba Foundation)
1620: Ken O’Keefe (anti-war activist)
1630: Statement of Support from the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
1635: Joy Hurcombe (Save Shaker Aamer Campaign) reads out Statement of Support from Walter Wolfgang
1645: Omar Deghayes (former Guantánamo prisoner)
1655: Adnan Rashid (Hittin Institute)
1705: Sultana Parvin
1715: Uthman Lateef (Hittin Institute)
I hope to see some of you down there, as the case of Aafia Siddiqui, which I have been following for many years, remains deeply troubling. My previous articles can be found here, and below is a re-cap of her story, drawn largely from an account of the website of the Justice for Aafia Coalition.
Please also note that other events scheduled for Saturday include a rally in New York at 12 noon, and a rally in Toronto (sisters only) at 6 pm. On Friday (March 30), there is also a rally in Sandton, South Africa at 2 pm, and another in Fort Worth, Texas at 3.30 pm.
The story of Aafia Siddiqui
Nine years ago, on March 30, 2003, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani citizen, and a cognitive neuroscientist, disappeared in Karachi along with her three children, the youngest of whom, Suleman, was just a baby. For the next five years their whereabouts were unknown, and have never been publicly acknowledged by either the Pakistani or the US government, even though it seems clear that she was held in secret detention, where she was severely abused. Former Bagram prisoners have stated that a female prisoner was held in the prison, identified by the number “650,” and have said that they heard her horrific screams.
Following demands for her recovery by human rights organisations and the Pakistani public, Aafia resurfaced in Afghanistan in August 2008, framed with the attempted murder of US personnel. Transferred to the US, she was convicted in a shocking miscarriage of justice and was sentenced in September 2010 to 86 years in prison. She is currently held in isolation at FMC Carswell, Texas, a facility notoriously referred to as the “hospital of horrors.” She is denied any meaningful contact with her family and is unlikely to see her children again.
Whilst the two elder children were released in 2008 and 2010 respectively, the whereabouts of her youngest child, Suleman — only six months old at the time of the abduction — remain unknown, although it is believed that he may have been killed art the time of her initial capture. Most recently, disturbing reports have emerged that her health is deteriorating and there are serious concerns that she may have cancer.
To request Aafia Siddiqui’s repatriation to Pakistan, please contact the following officials in the US and Pakistani governments:
Eric Holder: Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20530-0001, Tel: +1 202 353 1555, Email: AskDoJ@usdoj.gov
Hilary Clinton: Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20520, Tel: +1 202 647 4000, Fax: +1 202 261 8577, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Asif Ali Zardari: President of Pakistan, President’s Secretariat, Islamabad, PAKISTAN, Tel 92 51 920 4801/921 4171, Fax 92 51 920 7458, Email: email@example.com
Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani: Prime Minister of Pakistan, Prime Minister House, Islamabad, PAKISTAN, Fax: + 92 51 922 1596, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Rehman Malik: Minister of Interior, Room No. 404, 4th Floor, R Block, Pak Secretariat, Islamabad, PAKISTAN, Tel: +92 51 921 2026, Fax: +92 51 920 2624, E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi: Foreign Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Islamabad, Pakistan, Tel: +92 51 921 0335, Fax: +92 51 920 7600, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also write to Aafia:
Aafia Siddiqui # 90279-054
Federal Medical Center
P.O. Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127
And to send a message of support to her family, email: email@example.com
- Aafia’s lawyer seeks reversal of her conviction (nation.com.pk)
Pakistan’s main religious parties, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Difa-e-Pakistani Council (DPC), have warned the country against reopening NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, Press TV reports.
Addressing a large crowd in the Bat Khela area of the Malakand division in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, JI Chief Amir Syed Munawar Hassan said the members of the party along with Pakistani people would close all the routes if the parliament decided to reopen the passageways.
“The leaders and government are following a US agenda,” he said.
Meanwhile, DPC Chairman Maulana Samiul Haq said reopening the routes was unacceptable.
“Democratic tactics would be used for blockade of supply to NATO forces in Afghanistan,” he added.
Samiul Haq announced that a related protest rally would be held in front of Pakistan’s parliament on March 27.
The gathering comes days after a meeting between high-ranking Pakistani officials, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Amy Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani along with his senior ministers.
The meeting was held to discuss channels to normalize the relations with the US-led forces in Afghanistan and restore the supply routes.
In November 2011, Islamabad closed the routes to the supplies headed for the US-led foreign forces deployed in Afghanistan in reaction to the Western military alliance of NATO’s airstrikes that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border earlier in that month.
The relations between Pakistan and the US have also significantly soured in the past year over the unsanctioned US drone strikes against the former’s northwestern tribal belt.
There have been large-scale protests in Pakistan against the drone strikes, which might force Islamabad to condition the reopening of the supply lines to the halting of the attacks.
A Pakistani minister says trade levels with Iran have increased over the past few years despite US sanctions imposed against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear energy program.
“The balance of trade USD 410.438 million remained in favor of Iran [in 2010-2011]. During the last few years there has generally been a positive trend in trade relations between Pakistan and Iran,” Pakistani Federal Minister for Commerce Makhdoom Amin Fahim said.
Islamabad exports to Tehran stood at USD 161.941 million in 2010-11, whereas imports from Iran accounted for USD 572.379 million, Pakistan’s biggest financial daily Business Recorder reported on Saturday.
Amin Fahim said Pakistan’s major exports to Iran in 2010-11 include rice, fruit, chemical material and products, cotton fabric, and manufactures of non-ferrous metals.
Pakistan’s major imports from Iran during the same period were petroleum, chemical compounds, chemical material and products, machinery and its parts, and ores and concentrates of iron, he said.
Earlier in January, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said Islamabad would not limit trade relations with Iran “because of the political whims of any outside power.”
Pakistan has no choice but to seek greater ties with its neighbors – Iran, China, India and Afghanistan – “because the economies of the West are in trouble and not in a position to help us,” Zardari added.
- Pakistan, India to ink 3 trade deals (nation.com.pk)
- You: Tunisia, Algeria for expanding trade with Pakistan (nation.com.pk)
- Pakistan allies with Iran against US (rt.com)
- Pakistan ignores US threats and courts Iran (smh.com.au)