Pakistan and India to discuss gas line
By Iftikhar Gilani
NEW DELHI: Amidst apprehensions that the India-Pakistan talks may fall into an old rut, the two countries will discuss the feasibility of a proposed $4.16 billion dollar Iran-India gas pipeline via Pakistan for the first time.
India was loath to talk to Pakistan on this issue earlier and was instead pushing Tehran to seek security guarantees from Pakistan.
Sources said Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri might agree to form a working group of experts to look into the security of the 2,775km gas pipeline at a private lunch on Monday.
Almost 760km of the pipeline will pass through Pakistan allowing the country to reap $600 to $800 million each year in transit fees alone.
Mani Shankar has been an ardent supporter of the pipeline. He held an hour-long meeting with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran on Friday presumably for a briefing on discussions with Kasuri.
Sources said that soon after assuming office, Aiyar sent a proposal to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on the feasibility of the pipeline through Pakistan. He argued that just as the 20th century was an era of oil, the 21th century would belong to gas. For economic development, he said, energy starved India would need a strategy to transport cheap gas from Iranian and Central Asian reserves.
The minister is keen to launch the project in the new atmosphere of peace and talks between the two countries to enhance economic ties, said the sources.
Officials in the Ministry of External Affairs, however, are concerned about security mainly because of the recent clashes in Balochistan where Pakistan’s own gas fields came under attack by militant groups.
Iran has been pursuing the pipeline proposal with New Delhi and Islamabad since 1996. It is estimated Iran will save $300 million per year in energy costs.
However, tensions between India and Pakistan have always blocked the progress. The previous National Democratic Alliance government had even considered laying the pipeline under sea to avoid Pakistani territory. But experts calculated that costs would increase six or seven times the $4 billion estimated for the land route.
The Energy and Resources Institute Director General Dr Rajendra K Pachauri maintains that there was going on quietly. He said Tehran had agreed to pay for the gas if Pakistan disrupted the supply. “They will not only compensate us monetarily but will also make the gas available through other means,” he said.
Tehran also suggested that the pipeline be owned and operated by an international consortium of bankers and oil companies, which would buy the gas from Iran and sell it to India. It argued such a deal would ensure that India did not have to deal with Pakistan directly, thus removing Pakistan’s motivations to disrupt supplies.