U.S. Opposition to Gas Pipeline May Effect India-Pakistan Peace Efforts

The United States could hurt peace efforts between India and Pakistan by offering civilian nuclear aid to New Delhi and opposing a planned Iranian gas pipeline crossing the subcontinent, analysts say.

Officials from India, Pakistan and Iran were meeting in Tehran on Wednesday to discuss the multibillion-dollar pipeline which has the potential to forge a lasting link between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars.

Analysts say U.S. opposition to the pipeline is aimed at curbing Iran, which Washington says is trying to build nuclear weapons, while the U.S. offer of nuclear aid to India reflects an effort to offset China's growing power in Asia.

But both policies could undermine peace efforts between India and Pakistan, which have rapidly rising needs for energy, the local and international experts said. It also signals that Washington places its interests in the region above those of sovereign governments, they said.

"This shows the extreme contradictions of the American policy in the region and indicates that it is only looking after its own national interests, which are completely contrary to the interests of other countries," said Talat Masood, a former Pakistani general and political analyst.

President Bush announced in India this month that America would supply the Asian giant's civilian nuclear program with atomic energy and fuel.

The deal flies in the face of decades of American anti-proliferation policy that has rejected providing atomic aid to countries — like India — that don't have U.N.-approved safeguards on all reactors. Congress must either amend U.S. law or approve an exception if the agreement is to go ahead.

India's longtime rival, neighboring Pakistan, demands the same deal, but has instead been given an American cold shoulder, with Bush saying the two countries have "different needs and different histories." Washington has, however, promised to help promote coal, hydroelectric, solar and wind energy here.

U.S. reluctance to help Pakistan with nuclear technology — which it already gets from China to support its civilian nuclear program — likely reflects concerns over its proliferation record.

A.Q. Khan, a top Pakistani scientist who helped build its nuclear bomb, was exposed two years ago as the chief of a lucrative black market in weapons technology that supplied Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Pakistan's government denied any knowledge of his proliferation activities, and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said it was unfair to punish the country for rogue acts by scientists.

"The U.S. can have its own stance but we are going to do what is on our own national interests," Aslam said of Pakistan's nuclear plans.

Aslam also said Pakistan will push forward with India to build the 1,735-mile pipeline linking them to natural gas fields in Iran which was first proposed in 1996.

Hopes for its completion have grown since India and Pakistan launched their peace process two years ago.

But U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in Islamabad Monday that Washington won't support any development that would see economic benefit go to Iran. Iran denies that wants to build atomic weapons, saying its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity.

"To use this as a method for punishing Iran for its nuclear ambitions seems to be not well thought out," said U.S.-based energy analyst Ken Stern.

"The pipeline is a win-win situation for all by providing much needed energy for the developing economy of India and revenue for Pakistan, and it clearly provides an opportunity for forging a link between Pakistan and India," he said.