Pakistan and the Potential for Conflict in the Strait of Hormuz

Pakistan’s Balochistan Province is on the Arabian Sea; and the Strait of Hormuz lies to the east, at the border with Iran. Around 20 per cent of the world’s daily oil supply passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to close after the latest wave of sanctions [EPA]. The only point of interest on the coast is the port of Gwadar, which was built and commissioned with Chinese technical and financial support in May 2007. To that point, the project cost a total of $280 million. Several piers are currently in operation, and the port’s infrastructure is under construction. One purpose of the port is to serve as a freight hub for raw hydrocarbons destined for Pakistan’s domestic market. Also, the local media has reported that a naval base for the Pakistani and Chinese navies will be located there.



by Natalya Zamarayeva 


According to US Central Command, on January 10, 2012 a U.S. Navy carrier strike group entered the Indian Ocean en route to the Arabian Sea. The USS John C. Stennis carrier strike group is already sailing those waters. This move was precipitated by several factors.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran’s nuclear program is military in nature. Iran denies all allegations. Concerned about the situation, EU countries have agreed to ban the import of Iranian oil. In response, Tehran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes 40% of all maritime oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States will respond if Iran tries to close the Strait.

It is no less important to analyze Pakistan’s position regarding these developments from various points of view: international, regional and defense of national political and economic interests.

So, the Strait of Hormuz: Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province is on the Arabian Sea; and the Strait of Hormuz lies to the east, at the border with Iran. The only point of interest on the coast is the port of Gwadar, which was built and commissioned with Chinese technical and financial support in May 2007. To that point, the project cost a total of $280 million. Several piers are currently in operation, and the port’s infrastructure is under construction. One purpose of the port is to serve as a freight hub for raw hydrocarbons destined for Pakistan’s domestic market. Also, the local media has reported that a naval base for the Pakistani and Chinese navies will be located there.

First of all, the potential conflict would affect Pakistan-Iran relations; more precisely, it concerns Iran’s nuclear program and hydrocarbons. Secondly, it affects the future of Pakistan-China cooperation.

Welcome to an edgy world – where a single incident at an energy “chokepoint” could set a region aflame, provoking bloody encounters, boosting oil prices, and putting the global economy at risk. With energy demand on the rise and sources of supply dwindling, we are, in fact, entering a new epoch – the Geo-Energy Era – in which disputes over vital resources will dominate world affairs. In 2012 and beyond, energy and conflict will be bound ever more tightly together, lending increasing importance to the key geographical flashpoints in our resource-constrained world.

In late December 2011, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said that “…our relations with Iran are special and have been strengthened in all areas. Pakistan has always supported a state’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear technology in accordance with its international obligations.” “Pakistan believes that the issues related to Iran’s nuclear program should be resolved through peaceful means, and a mechanism already exists to do that. Escalation of the situation will not be in our interest.”

Islamabad also spoke unambiguously about the gas pipeline. “Our relations with Iran are special and there is no policy change. There is a desire to accelerate completion of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, given that we are an energy-deficient country. Early completion of the project is most desirable.” Anticipating that the project will be resumed, Islamabad opened its border with Iran on December 18, 2011. It was closed in late September 2011 after a shooting incident in Mastung.

Pakistan’s natural gas shortage has not only slowed growth in many sectors, it has affected virtually all spheres of life. During the election campaign in early 2008, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party generously promised to solve the hydrocarbon supply problem and provide them to the populace. Summertime fuel shortages forced the government to limit supplies for the domestic market. As a result, the government faced massive protests calling for urgent action or dismissal of the federal cabinet of ministers.

Construction of the pipeline, which has a design capacity of 21.5 million cubic meters of gas per day, has already been delayed 10 years, and further delay could be disastrous for the country, which is facing a natural gas shortage. Today, individual voices are optimistically claiming that the project, which was originally scheduled for completion in 2014, might be completed a year earlier and start pumping gas in the second half of 2013.

Pakistani Oil Minister Asim Hussain confirmed in December 2011 that all of the necessary surveying work for construction of the 790-kilometer gas pipeline in Pakistan has been completed. One reason for the delay has been a lack of funding. Pakistan has been desperately seeking foreign investments to complete the project. In 2011, Islamabad found a satisfactory sponsor in Beijing. China has also guaranteed to provide Pakistan with financial assistance to construct the pipeline. Islamabad plans to import $200-$250 million in gas each month, which adds up to $3 billion annually.

Islamabad’s need for the Pakistan-Iran pipeline remains very high because it has no other way of meeting the growing demand for energy. Moreover, the draft Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline is expected to be much better for Islamabad than the TAPI project because, as its oil minister says, “…Iran guaranteed in negotiations that the price of gas delivered by the Pakistan-Iran pipeline will be lower than that envisaged for TAPI, and there is a high likelihood that Tehran will agree to Islamabad’s proposal.” China’s financial advisor is ICPC, and Pakistan’s advisor is Habib Bank Limited.

It is inconceivable that Islamabad would abandon the project now. Pakistan initiated it despite threats from the Obama administration, which is adamantly opposed to the resumption of work that would threaten the economic sanctions. The United States is pursuing its own geopolitical interests and promoting nonviable alternatives for Pakistan that would place an additional burden on its treasury. China is also pursuing its geostrategic interests by agreeing to fund the gas project, particularly in the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

Pakistan’s civilian government has been negotiating construction of Gwadar Port with China ever since coming to power in 2008, but it achieved a breakthrough in the second half of 2011. For China, Gwadar means a trade outlet to the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. Development of the port is important in and of itself, but that alone is not sufficient. Over the long term, it will be necessary to develop a transport infrastructure (rail, highway and air) and telecommunications networks.

Full implementation of the project in the 21st century implies the development of a backbone network from Gwadar eastward to Urumqi-Beijing-Shanghai, giving China an alternative trade corridor to the Gulf countries and Eastern Europe. This route is much shorter than the Straits of Malacca, which it currently uses. Pakistan’s geopolitical location is important to Beijing because it is at the crossroads of Central, South and West Asia. And that raises the question—will the countries in the region let anyone make waves in the Strait of Hormuz?

Related Posts:

1. Pakistan speeds pursuit of Iranian pipeline, defying U.S. 2. The Politics Of Gas Pipelines In Asia
Source, Title image (1), Image (2) and caption text
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12 replies to “Pakistan and the Potential for Conflict in the Strait of Hormuz

  1. Israeli DEBKAfile, which is linked to Israel military establishment, reported on December 31, 2011 that Iran did prove its point by closing the Strait of Hormuz for five hours without firing a single missile.

    “By a media trick, Tehran proved its claim that closing the Strait of Hormuz is “as easy as drinking water”. First thing Saturday morning, Saturday, Dec. 31, Iran’s state agencies “reported” long-range and other missiles had been test-fired as part of its ongoing naval drill around the Strait of Hormuz. Ahead of the test, Tehran closed its territorial waters. For five hours Saturday, not a single warship, merchant vessel or oil tanker ventured into the 30-mile wide Hormuz strait, waiting to hear from Tehran’ that the test was over,” reported DEBKAfile.

  2. Closing the Hormuz strait is going to put Iran into a difficult situation as well for they are dependent on their daily export of fruits and vegetables & import to U.A.E. & Sultanate of Oman.

    1. You are right; Sohail, Iran will definitely be in trouble by closing the Strait of Hormuz. Economically as you’ve pointed out, it will affect its export of food items [to the UAE]. But when it comes to the question of the very existence of a nation, one has to take hard, bitter and sometimes highly undesirable decisions. The way Uncle Sam is proceeding, the way it is principally being motivated by the Nazionists of Israel, the objective to thwart the Iranian moves to adopt an independent course, a course that doesn’t take into consideration the right and the might of the great Uncle Sam who is insistent to dictate her terms, Iran or for that matter were it any other nation, would adopt the same course Iran has chosen for itself. In this regard, ironically the American president who’s not a Gora Sahib, having Muslim name, is behaving exactly what George the Bush was doing in the days of his Raj.

  3. If there will be a sanction on oil import from Iran then who will take risk in investing required capital for the 800 km pipe line project . The other problem is regarding the safty of the pipe line which is almost impossible due to public unrest in Boluchistan . Therefore TAPI is the only way out left for Pakistan .

    1. TAPI is a US motivated project. Both Turkmenistan & Afghanistan are facing insurgencies & these are far more serious in nature than the one in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Moreover IPI faces far less logistic hazards than those in the TAPI project. Even then Pakistan needs to have an access to TAPI as well, as both these pipelines are very much needed not only by Pakistan but also by all the subcontinental countries, as well as China. Though India under pressure of the United States has backtracked from IPI project [the name itself stands for Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline] yet gas from Iran will be far more economical for India also than the one from Turkmenistan. And Mister Doctor AKT, ultimately its the economy that determines the progress of a nation and not what one likes or dislikes.
      Wasi of Kundian

    2. MisterDoctor AKT, In today’s papers there is news that China, Japan, India Greece, Italy etc. have refused to accept the US/UN embargo on purchase of oil from Iran. This confirms my earlier assertion that its economy that decides the progress of nations & not what they may wish or what their whims may lead them to.

  4. IPI is better option for us than TAPI but we cannot ignore the wishes of international community. U N sanction against all such countries is imminent who are working against the spirit of NPT. India is not a signatory of NPT even then she has followed all the norms of NPT, In contrast to it Pak and Iran being a signatory of NPT are working against it. If UN will impose sanctions, no one will come forward to finance IPI project.

    1. @MisDoc, Plz do not mind my using the abbreviation. For the sake of simplicity/expediency I have abbreviated your title but this in no way is intended to belittle your title, which I respect v/much.
      Coming to your observation on IPI, again misdoc you’ve offered a comment for the sake of comment [without any sum & substance]. Neither did India nor Pakistan sign the NPT. Iran did sign it. If it now is working on nuclear power, it no where debars it as an NPT signatory country to explore al possibilities of peaceful nuclear power generation. Actually both the US and Israel are bent upon forcing Iran to be declared as a country developing weapons of mass destruction, same way they declared Iraq as a country developing the WMD’s and then unilaterally invaded Iraq. The objective then was neither to work for peace nor for democracy in Iraq but to bomb a country that was opposing the US imperialists and Israeli Nazionists in the Middle East. Same objective is now being tried to achieve in the same manner, same fashion, same style of contriving the facts and bomb a country that is opposed to the imperialism of the US, in collusion with Israel.
      As regards your allegation against Pakistan having been guilty of proliferation, well if Pakistan would blindly tow the US line, all sins of Pakistan will be exonerated but if it adopts an independent stance, all sorts of sins will be placed on Pakistan’s shoulders.
      Since India is blindly towing Washington line these days, therefore, India nowadays is the love child of the US neconservatives and the Pentagon hardliners.

      Wasi of Kundian

      1. obsolutely right @Wasi. both of the countries haven’t signed the NPT and for your kind information @Tewari, when U.S is the one who can violate the Articl I of NPT instead of the fact that it has signed NPT, then who the hell is U.S to go against Iran when it is moving on the same lines as Iran did.

    2. @Tewari, can you please shed some light regarding the violation of Article I by U.S in the Indo-U.S nuclear deal….getting biased is not the true of opinion making.

  5. Mr. Basi, write some thing new. The thoughts you wish to propagate are harmful to you and your country. NPT from its very start has been discriminatory in nature as it gives immunity to all the five permanent members of the Security Council which is why India along with some other nations refused to sign it. With the forthcoming expansion of the SC some other nations might also be granted such immunity.

    1. MisDoc, Am not Basi but Wasi. From a person claiming himself to be a doctor one does expect some courtesy and this demands that the names should not be mutilated. Abbreviations yes but no mutilations. My thoughts are not new for you because you are paranoid. And paranoia, you know as a doctor is something which does not fit into a scholastic exchange of ideas or thoughts but more a psychological condition of mind that looks everything through colored glasses.

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