India also takes interest in other gas projects


June 13 - 19, 2005

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 India.

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 options."

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 partners.

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.