The consensus reached between Pakistan and India on
gas pipeline project from Iran, during the Indian Petroleum Minister's
visit to Islamabad last week is a major breakthrough in the ongoing
process of confidence building measures (CBMs) between the two
countries. It is the first tangible outcome of the peace process, the
two nuclear neighbours had initiated some two years ago.
Besides setting up a joint working group (JWG) at
the secretary level to accelerate work on the proposed $4 billion
Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, India has also shown
interest in the $3.5 billion Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan (TAP)
gas pipeline and Gulf South Asia (GSA) gas pipeline from Qatar.
According to a joint statement issued at the end of
three-day visit of Indian Petroleum Minister, Mani Shankar, and his
interaction with his counterpart Amanullah Khan Jadoon, India intended
to participate in the other two projects as well besides gas pipeline
from Iran on which work is expected to start early next year.
Pakistan Petroleum Minister, Amanullah Khan Jadoon
briefed Indian Minister about the details of the projects, which are
aimed at meeting Pakistan's growing energy requirements. Mani Shankar
said he would be looking forward to an invitation to attend the next
Steering Committee Meeting of TAP with a view to seek its extension to
On the Iran-Pakistan-India project, the two
countries agreed to exchange information regarding financial
structuring, technical, commercial, legal and other related issues for
safe and secure world class project. The two sides during the meeting
reviewed the project and were of the view that it would go a long way
in meeting the energy and security requirements of the two countries.
The statement even termed the project as 'significant' for the people
of both the countries.
The Indian Petroleum Minister also discussed the
arrangement of meeting between President General Pervez Musharraf and
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on April 18. Mani
Shankar Aiyar, who also called on the President General Pervez
Musharraf, informed about his talks with his Pakistani counterpart on
Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project.
President General Pervez Musharraf, talking to the
Indian Minister said it was an important project which is in the
interest of all the three countries. He said with growing economies,
the energy needs of South Asian countries would rise, the sooner the
arrangements are made, the better will be the results. Referring to
bilateral Pakistan-India relations, the President expressed his
satisfaction at the progress on Confidence Building Measures. He
however, emphasized that the CBMs should move in tandem with
resolution of problems between the two countries including the core
issue of Kashmir.
Sources privy to the meeting quoted the President
as saying that the project is in the interest of three countries since
it would generate huge economic activities, thus, contribute to
ongoing efforts for reducing poverty, creating more jobs and improving
quality of life in the region. The President emphasized modalities of
the project to be finalized at the earliest so that work on it could
start by the next year.
He assured the Indian Minister that the pipeline
passing through Pakistan would be fully protected. He brushed aside
concerns by the United States on the gas pipeline project, saying,
"There is nothing for anyone to worry about the project. The
project will not be abandoned at all." He said Islamabad would
have no aversion if India was interested in partaking in projects
meant for Pakistan procuring gas from Turkmenistan and Qatar, and
would rather welcome its involvement in them because like Pakistan,
India also requires to import gas to meet its energy requirements.
Later, Mani Shankar during a meeting with Prime
Minister Shaukat Aziz, Mani said that a historic beginning of
constructing energy corridors across Asia has been launched. It is not
only India and Pakistan joining hands to meet their energy demands but
it is the advent of North South energy corridor besides South
Asia-West Asia energy links. "The agreement between India and
Pakistan on jointly pursuing their energy needs is the beginning of a
new era", he added.
Replying to a question regarding competition from
three different sources including Iran, Turkmenistan and Qatar, Mani
Shankar said that he was in complete agreement with Prime Minister
Shaukat Aziz that India and Pakistan would need as many pipelines as
possible. Therefore, one pipeline construction does not bar the
prospects of others, he further added "we certainly respect
Pakistan's prerogative to prioritize amongst the proposed
The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project which is
expected to kicked off early next year and will enable the supply of
natural gas from Iran to India through Pakistan. This is a evidence of
confidence building measures between the two neighbours and a result
of their interactions at the official levels.
The growing trust is now being translated into
mutual benefits that will ultimately lead to the betterment of the
teeming millions who continue to live in abject poverty in the two
countries. While the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is politically
significant for durable peace in South Asia, it will also pave the way
for opening up the energy deficit of Eastern states to the energy
surplus Western and Central Asian industrial input, at a time when
economic growth is picking up. It will eventually lead to long-term
congeniality, as well as offer opportunities for creation of new trade
However, much will depend on the success of the
tripartite endeavor that has been agreed between India and Pakistan.
The two countries should keep on making progress on resolving their
more pressing issues which will give further boost to relationship.
They will also have to make serious effort to
resolve the territorial issues that have been the source of their sour
relations for more than five decades. Shying away from settling these
disputes will only leave space for the pro-status quo forces to
reverse the peace process, as President Pervez Musharraf rightly
pointed out when BJP leader L.K. Advani called on him last week.