Islamabad: Pakistan believes India is “dragging its feet” on the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline, and has told external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee that if New Delhi continues to hesitate, Islamabad will soon go ahead and sign a deal with Iran.
In an exclusive interview in Islamabad, the first to an Indian newspaper after the formation of the newly elected government in Pakistan, foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said he hoped to get a reply on this issue when he visits New Delhi in June.
Qureshi also said Pakistan was ready and willing to “incorporate India’s concerns” on Siachen and that he had given a package proposal on this issue to Mukherjee during his last week’s visit to Islamabad.
With the newly elected government—led by the Pakistan Peoples Party—Qureshi said the time was ripe for new opportunities. That was why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should visit Pakistan this year, he added.
“If he (the Prime Minister) wants to leave his name in history, he must come. If he misses this opportunity, it will be sad for all of us,” Qureshi said.
On the Siachen issue, he said, “I personally feel the Indian political leadership understands the significance of what I am saying. I am told it is the Indian Army that is a bit reluctant on the Siachen issue.” The dark hint, that there are grave differences between the Indian political leadership and the army on the Siachen issue, is lost on no one in Pakistan. Pakistani leaders have often said, off the record, that the Indian Army is preventing a deal on Siachen by invoking fears of a Pakistani reoccupation of the heights once the Indian troops come down.
But, for the first time in recent years, a senior Pakistani leader has come on record and stated the unspoken. Time and again during the interview, Qureshi pointed out that a buoyant economic relationship could significantly help improve the political atmosphere, and vice versa, and that the resolution of the Siachen issue was one such matter.
Indian officials, who admit that a deal on Siachen was almost clinched during the Rajiv Gandhi-Benazir Bhutto era, estimate that the cost of keeping Indian soldiers on the glacier as well as on the Saltoro range westwards of the glacier since 1984 is an astronomical Rs3 crore a day.
But, it was on the IPI gas pipeline issue that Qureshi was most forthright. Pointing out that Pakistan was severely deficient in energy needs, he said he had told Mukherjee that Pakistan “would love India to join” the IPI project, but had, meanwhile, already decided to go ahead with it.
“We cannot wait any more,” he said, adding that India was “dragging its feet” on the issue. Discussions on IPI had already taken place with the Chinese government when he visited Beijing a few weeks ago, as well as when the Chinese foreign minister came to Pakistan.
“We are happy to limit the pipeline to Pakistan, that is do an IP, or Iran-Pakistan, pipeline. If India is willing, we are more than happy to have an IPI. If China is willing, and western China is deficient (in energy), then it could be IPIC. Or, it could just be IPC,” Qureshi said in the interview.
Asked about India’s security concerns for the gas pipeline, and what would happen if militants decided to turn off the tap, Qureshi said both sides could surely find answers to that. “If we have to deliver (gas) at the border and if there are financial interests linked to it, why would we turn off the tap? What would we get out of it? There are so many security concerns, and they can be answered in a way to India’s satisfaction,” Qureshi added.