For the first time in too long, the Federal Cabinet and the major opposing political parties in Pakistan have come to agree about one thing: approving the multi-billion dollar Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline that will aid in easing the energy-crisis in Pakistan. This not only solidifies American ally Pakistan's economic ties to, arguably, the U.S.' largest foe, Iran, but also risks alienating the U.S.
The U.S. consul General Michael Dodman in Pakistan has warned that the U.S. state Department will impose sanctions if it continues to carry on with the Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project, saying that it is against U.S. law and that Pakistan would not receive any sort of support in this regard. U.S Ambassador, Richard G Olson, has also said that the U.S. has been extending financial assistance to Pakistan for various energy projects.
The Financial Times, however, has reported a senior Pakistani government official as saying, "a decision has been made that we can't delay this project for any longer. This is Pakistan's essential lifeline. We are going ahead with this project."
"Completing the construction of the [Iran-Pakistan] gas pipeline on Pakistani soil and the implementation of this major project is among the work priorities of the country," Pakistan President Asif Zardari has added.
As U.S.-Pakistani relations continue to deteriorate, particularly since the covert operation that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, the NATO strike that accidentally resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers and the continued use of drones that result in numerous innocent deaths almost daily, this could be worrisome for America and an obstacle for the U.S.-Pak relations. It is clear that among rising sentiments of anti-Americanism in Pakistan and the nation's almost constant state of crisis regarding one thing or another, Iran is taking advantage of the situation and stepping in with aid for Pakistan when it clearly needs it.
However, the U.S. also cannot fault Pakistan for turning to Iran for assistance when it comes to one of their biggest vulnerabilities, energy. Although economic problems have plagued Pakistan for years now, the most damaging and hindering has been the country's inadequate access to energy. Almost 40% of Pakistan, as of December 2011, does not have regular access to electricity, and blackouts are a common occurrence (going sans power for 2-3 hours a day in Pakistan – up to 12 in the major cities — is fairly ordinary, although in the summers it tends to get worse. I can vouch for as much). This constant lack of energy has led to a large portion of Pakistan's industry, which is run mostly on gas, to fall apart and riots and backlash against the government, to increase. It has easily become the focal point in Pakistani politics, with constant pressure from the Pakistani people for their politicians to subsidize energy and fuel prices. Pakistan's economy also sustains a 3-4 % loss of GDP annually due to the crippling energy shortages and have seen a 10% increase in unemployment. In other words, Pakistan simply cannot deny any sort of energy assistance without receiving severe backlash from the Pakistani citizens.
Unless the U.S. is willing to allow this growing relationship between Pakistan and Iran, it's clear that they need to put stabilizing Pakistan and decreasing animosity amongst the Pakistani population as one of its priorities. Although the U.S. has provided millions of dollars to Pakistan in aid over the past decade, the majority of those funds have been directed towards supporting the Pakistani military in its efforts in combating the Taliban – a war many Pakistani's believe their nation is fighting on behalf of the U.S., anyway.
A quick fix for this, on behalf of the U.S., would be to offer Pakistan the same civilian nuclear energy program it has offered to India in the past years, aiding Pakistan with its energy crisis while eliminating the threat of an even stronger Pak-Iran relationship.