06 July 2005

Despite U.S. pressure, India and Pakistan to go ahead with Iran pipeline

6 July 2005
The Hindu

India, Pakistan to go ahead with pipeline

Natwar Singh, Shaukat Aziz stress cooperation in energy, economic, water and trade issues "The Iran gas pipeline project is an extremely complex one and it is crucial that work to tie up the loose ends begins."

Siddharth Varadarajan

ASTANA (KAZAKHSTAN): Despite Washington's negative reaction to the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's new President, India and Pakistan intend to press ahead with their plans to construct a pipeline that will transport Iranian gas deep into South Asia.

In a 45-minute meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit here on Tuesday, External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz reviewed the state of bilateral relations in some detail and agreed that emphasis must be given to cooperation in energy, economic, water and trade issues.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri was also present at the meeting.

According to a senior Indian official, Mr. Aziz said that the Iran gas pipeline project was an extremely complex one and that it was crucial that the work to tie up the "loose ends" begin.

"He referred to the need for proper financial structuring, technical project studies, risk mitigation instruments and security guarantees," the official said, adding that these issues were likely to be addressed in due course.

Asked by Mr. Singh about U.S. pressure on Islamabad to scrap the project, Mr. Aziz said Pakistan would do what it felt was in its national interest to do.

In brief remarks to the press after the meeting, Mr. Aziz stressed the importance of the pipeline, which he described as a "win-win project" for both countries.

He also said he had raised the Baglihar issue in his meeting with Mr. Singh. Apart from energy, Mr. Singh and Mr. Aziz discussed trade-related issues with both leaders welcoming the imminent revival of the India-Pakistan Joint Economic Commission.

According to the senior Indian official, the Pakistan Prime Minister said he favoured the movement of trucks between the two countries as well as an increase in the frequency of transport links such as buses and trains. Mr. Singh said India was concerned that Pakistan had not done enough to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and said that evidence about the functioning of certain facilities and camps was available.

According to the senior Indian official, Mr. Aziz replied that the Pakistan Government was "institutionally completely against" cross-border terrorism. "It is not in our interest," the official quoted Mr. Aziz as saying. "Those of us who have had attempts on our lives know there are no good and bad terrorists." In their review of the composite dialogue process, the two sides agreed that the past 18 months had been promising.

Mr. Aziz noted that the step-by-step approach was helping improve the atmospherics and that this would lay the foundation for the resolution of all disputes, including Kashmir.

The two leaders also felt the public reaction in both countries to the ongoing peace process was very good.

On the question of U.N. Security Council reform, Mr. Aziz told Mr. Singh that Pakistan and India could "agree to disagree." Pakistan's stand against the G-4 resolution was not India-centric, he said, but part of a wider "overall position."

Though India's recent decision to deny Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid permission to visit Kashmir did not come up in the meeting, a senior Pakistani official told The Hindu this did not mean the chapter was closed.

"The Government may not take it up but Mr. Rashid is quite capable of doing so on his own," the official said.

© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

No comments: