Gas pipeline may figure on SAARC sidelines

Monday, 31 January 2005, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Serious negotiations on the proposed Iran-India gas pipeline project are slated over the next few weeks between Pakistan and India and is expected to figure in talks between the prime ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in February, a media report said Monday.

"Indications are that the stalled project may be revived soon. Serious negotiations on the project are expected to take place during the next few weeks between the top Pakistani and Indian leadership," Dawn said.

It will be a major talking point at a meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Dhaka, it added.

Aziz will also discuss the project with the Iranian leadership when he visits Tehran in February.

The estimated $4-billion project is meant to transfer gas from Iran to India via Pakistan through a 1,600-km pipeline. The project has been held up due to security concerns expressed by India. New Delhi is also believed to have demanded Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status as a quid pro quo.

"Apparently, India had subsequently made progress on the project conditional upon Pakistan agreeing to buy diesel pumped from (the) Panipat (refinery) in Indian Punjab.

"However, positive signals have been received from New Delhi, particularly from the Indian petroleum minister, who has suggested that India is reviewing its policy of linking the gas pipeline project with MFN status and sale of diesel.

"According to sources, it has been recently conveyed to Pakistan that India is now willing to move forward on the gas pipeline as a stand-alone project.

"It appears that Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar is (steering) away from India's bureaucratic line of going it slow with Pakistan.

"It will be clear in the next few days whether Aiyar, a diplomat-turned-politician, will lead the Indian initiative in the energy sector or will he be led by the standard bureaucratic approach of creating more hurdles in the way of a project involving Pakistan," Dawn said.

Aziz had told the Indian leadership during his visit to New Delhi in November that Pakistan would go ahead with the pipeline project even if India did not come on board. His contention was that it was a stand-alone project and must be treated as such.

On Friday, Aziz reiterated that Pakistan would press ahead with the pipeline project even if India refused or was unable to join the plan.

Source: IANS
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