International acclamation for Zardari’s Foreign Policy

LONDON: The Guardian newspaper said in a commentary that President Asif Ali Zardari has taken a string of bold initiatives to boost his stock, including the Iranian-Pakistan gas pipeline scheme aimed at “not only to loosen Washington’s suffocating embrace but also keep India, Pakistan’s major regional rival and sometime foe, at bay”.

The paper said that the pipeline project, that will funnel natural gas from Iran’s South Pars field in the Gulf to energy-starved Pakistan, will produce hard currency for Iran’s hard-pressed economy and the pipeline will help break the sanctions stranglehold on Iran’s energy sector imposed by the US and western allies. It said that Zardari was sending a strong message to the US by smiling with the Iranian president at the launch ceremony a few weeks ago.

“The revival of the much-delayed project, and the timing of the high-profile joint ceremony attended by diplomats from Arab states, appears, in part at least, to be the product of canny calculations by Zardari ahead of Pakistan’s national elections on May 11,” said the paper, adding that Zardari wants to be seen doing something about chronic energy shortages.

“Zardari’s move was seen as a deliberate attempt to emphasise Islamabad’s growing freedom of action as the American regional presence declines with next year’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Anthony Skinner, of the British-based Maplecroft risks consultancy, said: “The Pakistani government wants to show it is willing to take foreign policy decisions that defy the US. The pipeline not only caters to Pakistan’s energy needs but also lodged brownie points with the many critics of the US among the electorate.”

The paper said that recent trilateral summit between David Cameron, Hamid Karzai, and President Zardari showed that Pakistan has been able to exclude India from the Afghan negotiations.

“Ignoring US and Indian concerns, Zardari has also held out his hand to China, recently transferring management of the highly strategic port of Gwadar from a Singapore company to a Chinese one. China’s presence in the Gwadar Port at the mouth of

the Arabian Sea will deter India from carrying out any action planned against Pakistan,” Chinese state media dutifully noted,” said the paperThe paper said that these initiatives as well as Zardari’s success in holding government together, against all the odds, for five years opens the way for a possible bid for a second term. “For someone who was not trained as a politician, Zardari has seen everybody off,” a senior Pakistani official told the paper. “He’s got the better of all of them.”

The Obama administration, meanwhile, said the paper, looks on “balefully, struggling unsuccessfully to conceal its displeasure and resist the temptation to hit back with sanctions”.