Energy hunger complicated U.S.-Pakistan relationship

WASHINGTON – As the United States is moving towards energy independence, its important ally Pakistan is mired in energy politics, complicating the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

Pakistan suffers from an “acute energy crisis” that requires greater regional cooperation.  It currently has an electricity shortfall approximating 5,000 megawatts per day. Around 30 percent of the population does not have access to grid electricity, leaving about one third using noncommercial sources, according to a report by United States Institute of Peace.

The report showed that Pakistan domestic oil supply is projected to be exhausted by 2025 and gas in 2030 as a result of inadequate investment and political tensions. It estimated that energy imports could rise to $38 billion by 2015 if the country’s efforts to increase indigenous oil supply failed. The crisis, which can hardly be resolved domestically in the near term, has drawn regional countries into play.

Some are U.S. allies, but some are not what the U.S. is happy to see.

Iran has routinely provided Pakistan with energy to offset its shortfall. In April, Pakistan officials urged to speed up the implementation of the agreements on a pipeline that stretches through Iran to Pakistan.

The U.S. never supported the pipelines from Iran, but the energy hunger pushed Pakistan to countries such as Iran and China.

China has partner with Pakistan in energy development for years and has played a pivotal role in the country’s nuclear sector, which worries the U.S., according to the energy crisis report.

“Our relationship with China is strategic,” said Simbal Khan, Pakistan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “China has given us nuclear reactors and all kinds of support.”

In the past years, the bilateral tie between U.S. and Pakistan went down. Roughly three-in-four, which is 74 percent, of Pakistanis consider the U.S. an enemy, up 5 percent from last year, according to Pew Research Center.

However, as Iran oil undergoes sanctions and the huge reserves of shale gas in the U.S. redraws the energy map, Pakistan has started looking to U.S. energy.

In October, Asim Hussain, Pakistan adviser to the prime minister on petroleum and natural resources, said the government is considering investing in a shale gas field to meet the Pakistan demand.

U.S. has been consistently assisting Pakistan in domestic energy development. Since 2009, the U.S. government has provided $2.8 billion in civilian assistance, including funds spent in energy sector.

“U.S. government assistance helped build Mangla Dam,” Ambassador Olson said. “Now, nearly 50 years later, the United States is helping to repair the dam to make sure it continues to produce the energy this country needs.”

Despite the complicate regional geopolitics, experts say the relationship between U.S. and Pakistan has finally improved in the past few months and they hope to see more policy changes in the U.S. Congress.

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