New Delhi: Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that Pakistan will provide “foolproof security” for the 2615-km-long natural gas pipeline from Iran to India, via Pakistan, and urged Delhi to move ahead with the project.
Addressing a press conference in the capital today, after talks with External Affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, Qureshi said “Pakistan is keen on moving ahead,” and that he would ask Petroleum minister Murli Deora “whether India was ready to fully engage with us or would like to spend some more time thinking about it.”
Qureshi, who is in town to kickstart the fifth round of talks between the two countries, indicated that the “peace pipeline”, as the $7 billion Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is often called, could further create a “bond” between the two countries.
A senior official in the Ministry of External Affairs, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Delhi welcomed the positive signals coming from Pakistan. He said while the commercial questions over the pipeline had “more or less been resolved,” that is, all three countries had agreed on the price of the gas that would be charged, sticky issues like assured gas supply as well as security for the pipeline still remained on the anvil.
Making progress: External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in New Delhi. (Photo: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg)
The senior MEA official was unwilling to comment on Qureshi’s statements in this regard, only saying that trilateral discussions on “these political issues” had not been held so far. However, he admitted, with the new PPP-led government in Pakistan, “the current mood in the bilateral situation was quite remarkable. The new government seems willing to take several steps to promote the relationship,” the official said.
Both sides are also expected to take a view on several Indian proposals to increase traffic across the Line of Control, between the two Kashmirs, and the joint group that has been set up in this regard will meet soon.
Still, India seems to be coming around to the view that “economics could help resolve sticky political matters,” such as Siachen and Sir Creek. The former relates to Pakistani guarantees that they will not take over the heights westwards of the Siachen glacier when these are vacated by Indian soldiers, and the latter relates to a maritime boundary dispute between the two countries in the Rann of Kutch region.
In a statement issued on his arrival, Qureshi said :“The ongoing peace process is central to peace, security and prosperity in our region.”
The senior MEA official pointed to a proposal by PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari to Mukherjee during his visit to Pakistan last month, to extract coal from deposits in the Thar region in Rajasthan. Since this area is geographically very close to Sindh province in Pakistan, Zardari’s core political constituency, Delhi now believes that such a venture could catapult bilateral relations into new realms.
“India could extract the coal and sell energy across the border, that is only a few kilometers away, to Pakistan,” the senior official said.
That is why the buzz around the visit of deputy chairman of Pakistan’s Planning Commission Salman Farooqui, who was in Mumbai and Delhi earlier this week to meet his Indian counterpart Montek Singh Ahluwalia and several businessmen refuses to go away.
Farooqui and Ahluwalia not only discussed this project in the Thar desert, but also considered the possibility of Indian experts working on Pakistan projects. If such joint ventures are to be seriously considered, the MEA official said, both countries could easily reverse their ban on investing in each other’s countries.
Bilateral trade is already up, at $2 billion a year, and India believes that the five daily trains between Wagah-Attari across the India-Pakistan land border, carrying Pakistani cement into India, is a “very good signal.”
Pakistan is particularly interested in pushing the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, because as Qureshi said at the joint press conference today, “This is a project that can help us mitigate our problems vis-a-vis energy shortages.
Pakistan is reeling from severe energy shortages, exacerbated by the currently fragile political situation, in which the leading political parties, the PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League are unable to decide upon a fate for President Pervez Musharraf as well as the restoration of the judiciary.
But India also does not want to give the impression that it is open for business as usual with the new government in Islamabad, and bury concerns about terrorism and terrorist infiltration from Pakistan.
That is why, Pranab Mukherjee told the news conference today that India and Pakistan have to be “unambiguous” in addressing terrorism.
“Terrorism is a threat to the stability of our respective democratic frameworks. Whatever be our political differences, we have to be unambiguous in addressing terrorist threats,” Mukherjee said.
Qureshi extended a fresh invitation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan.