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Construction is nearing completion on a natural gas pipeline linking Iran and Pakistan, a project that portends a huge geopolitical shift. As regional powers strengthen ties in this key energy market, they're looking to China, and away from the West.
This – among other developments – is what it’s all about, the conclusion of the final stretch of the $7.5 billion, 1,100-mile natural gas Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, starting from Iran’s giant South Pars field in the Persian Gulf, and expected to be online by the end of 2014.
IP, as a key umbilical (steel) cord, makes a mockery of the artificial – US-encouraged – Sunni-Shia divide. Tehran needs the windfall, and the enhanced influence in South Asia. Ahmadinejad even cracked that “with natural gas, you cannot make atomic bombs.”
Islamabad decided not only to hand over operational control of the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, in ultra-sensitive southwest Balochistan, to China; crucially, Islamabad and Beijing also signed a deal to build a $4 billion, 400,000 barrels-a-day oil refinery, the largest in Pakistan.
Gwadar, a deepwater port, was built by China, but until recently, the port's administration was Singaporean.
The long-term Chinese master plan is a beauty. The next step after the oil refinery would be to lay out an oil pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang, parallel to the Karakoram highway, thus configuring Gwadar as a key Pipelineistan node distributing Persian Gulf oil and gas to Western China – and finally escaping Beijing’s Hormuz dilemma.
Gwadar, strategically located at the confluence of Southwest and South Asia, with Central Asia not that far, is bound to finally emerge as an oil and gas hub and petrochemical center – with Pakistan as a crucial energy corridor linking Iran with China. All that, of course, assuming that the CIA does not set Balochistan on fire.
The Syrian Pipelineistan angleThis graphic Iranian success in South Asia contrasts with its predicament in Southwest Asia.
The South Pars gas fields – the largest in the world – are shared by Iran and Qatar. Tehran and Doha have developed an extremely tricky relationship, mixing cooperation and hardcore competition.
The key (unstated) reason for Qatar to be so obsessed by regime change in Syria is to kill the $10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, which was agreed upon in July 2011. The same applies to Turkey, because this pipeline would bypass Ankara, which always bills itself as the key energy crossroads between East and West.