Normally, financial, marketing and technical viability is necessary for a project to succeed. However, in case of huge infrastructure ventures, like gas pipelines passing through a hostile territory, mere technical viability may not always be sufficient. The security environment may be equally or more important.

For example, unless Balochistan is taken on board, Iranian or Turkmenistan’s gas for local consumption or for transmitting it at a price to countries in the east, will remain a dream.

It is the people of Balochistan who can provide the best security for the Iran gas or any other trans-national pipeline to pass through their vast territory. Pondering over some alternative route is not likely to yield results.

Prime Minister Gilani’s government will be required to move fast to address concerns of the people of restive provinces of NWFP and Balochistan before gas pipeline talks actually deliver.

”In the current scenario, risk to proposed multi-billion dollar gas pipeline infrastructure in Balochistan would be high. Tracing the layout on the paper is one thing but materialising it on ground is a different ball game altogether. “ As long people of provinces along western border are disenchanted with the government,, the possibility of these projects to succeed are dim”, an analyst privy to marathon gas pipeline meetings aired his opinion when reached in Islamabad over phone. ”People of Balochistan who bore the brunt of military operation during the last government, boycotted the elections 2008. Militants are intermittently targeting government installations to vent their frustration. It would be unadvisable to make fresh investment in pipelines involving neighbouring countries when the government could not secure domestic Sui gas pipelines from so-called ‘saboteurs’, he said.

High-level official talks between Turkmenistan, Iran, India and Pakistan are scheduled to be held this week in Islamabad with a common mandate to iron out hitches in the realisation of the much-trumpeted regional energy solutions. The petroleum minister of India Murli Deora and his Secretary M. S. Srinivasan will be reaching Islamabad on 23rd. India is resuming the talks after lapse of about 10 months. It stopped attending IPI meetings citing tiff with Pakistan over transmission fee as a reason.

The technical teams of participants are already here burning midnight oil to prepare ground for the upcoming negotiations, sources in the ministry of petroleum confirmed.

Khawaja Asif, minister for petroleum, is said to be preoccupied with deliberations of the committee on the restoration of judges and was not available to make comments about gas talks.

In both South Asian countries, Pakistan and India energy deficiency is threatening to disrupt the economic growth momentum. Skyrocketing price of oil is making that commodity an unviable option. Besides exploring other options both, Pakistan and India, are actively involved in negotiations with nations they perceive can help to overcome the energy deficit.

The stakeholders often blame India for dragging its feet on Iran- Pakistan-India gas pipeline over its reservations that Pakistan will control the supply beside other technical issues, such as disagreement over the transmission fee.

Some Delhi-based businessmen, however, blame the new found infatuation of India with the West for their country’s reluctance to go ahead with the deal.

”You need to understand the art of diplomacy. What can the Indian government say why suddenly it has become cold towards a move it initiated? They cannot say that US is pressurising them to let the pipeline project with Iran pass. So they dress their condition in a controversy over transmission fee with Pakistan. This is not acceptable to us. We need energy and our government should not submit to external pressures and get us gas from Iran”, a business leader of PHD Chamber told Dawn last month in Delhi.

Talking to newsmen on Friday in Islamabad, Asian Development Bank’s director-general for Central and West Asia department said his bank would not finance the $7 billion Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.

”It is an open secret that the US wants to shoot down the gas project that could draw Iran, Pakistan and India closer. Indian government under influence of southern states, that have closer business interests with the West, is floundering this window of opportunity to avail affordable energy option”, another business tycoon who wished warmer economic relations with Pakistan told this scribe at a function of local businessmen in Delhi.

Shaukat Durrani, additional secretary, ministry of petroleum told Dawn over telephone from Islamabad that Pakistan has come a long way on the proposal of Iranian gas. “We have worked on both bilateral and trilateral arrangement with Iran. If India was not found willing we are all set to move ahead with the bilateral option”, he said.

He informed that Inter-state gas company, a public sector outfit is managing technical side of the proposal and it is on the basis of feasibilities put up by the company that the ministry negotiates with their counterparts.

Sartaj Aziz, former minister of finance, a leader of the ruling coalition component PML-N said he wished for the realisation of pipeline projects both originating from Iran and Turkmenistan but thought that the country has already lost much time and the cost has escalated bringing feasibility of projects in question.

The capital cost of four-nation Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan India (TAPI) 1,435-km pipeline of 56-inch diameter has currently reported to have been revised to $4 billion from $3.3 billion in 2003. The pipeline that is to originate from Turkmenistan’s Daultabad gas field will run 145-km in the host country, 735-km in Afghanistan and 555-km in Pakistan to Multan under the preferred southern route i.e. via Herat and Kandahar to India. However, the Asian Development Bank is willing to finance this project.

The Iran, Pakistan, India (IPI) pipeline project will cost over $7 billion. Islamabad is seeking $0.493 per million British thermal unit (mBtu) as transit fee, while New Delhi has offered $0.15 per mBtu ($60 million a year) for providing security and right of way to the pipeline.

Opinion

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Updated 20 May, 2022

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