The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Pakistan on Monday for a brief visit before going on to Sri Lanka and India. He met his counterpart Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for talks, which focussed largely on plans for a pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and India, which is to be over 2,500 kilometres long and will carry natural gas from Iran to the Indian subcontinent.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on a whistle-stop tour of South Asia
President Ahmadinejad flew into Chaklala airbase in Rawalpindi, a garrison town not far from the capital Islamabad, where he was met by the Pakistani minister for water and power, as well as other officials and an air force honour guard. He was later received by his Pakistani counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, at the presidential palace.
Top of the agenda was the multi-million dollar Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. The two presidents cleared the final hurdles and gave their foreign ministers the task of coming to an agreement about a mutually convenient date.
Professor Pervez Iqbar Cheema, a political expert based in Islamabad, was sure it would not take long now: “I think the agreement on this Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline will be finalised within weeks. The mechanism is already in place. Reportedly, Iran has already started laying the pipeline on its territory.”
But officially, work on the pipeline is expected to start in 2009.
The project was tabled in 1994 but talks stalled because of tension between India and Pakistan over transit fees. However, the current energy crisis and spiralling oil prices brought the two sides back to the negotiating table.
Last week, India’s oil minister Murli Deora said during a visit to Islamabad that the two sides had agreed to the project in principle. While his Pakistani counterpart, Khwaja Muhammad Asif, told the media that the project would be beneficial to both sides.
Talks about the pipeline were also delayed by Washington’s aversion to it. US officials have warned it could be detrimental to efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear energy programme.
Reportedly, Washington has tried to apply pressure on India to opt out of the project. But India is booming and in urgent need of energy supplies -- it imports 70 percent of its energy needs and wants to secure them.
Iran insists its controversial programme is only for energy purposes. Nuclear-armed Pakistan supports this stance, saying Tehran has a right to peaceful nuclear technology. Peace is also the aim of the pipeline, the Pakistani and Iranian presidents said on Monday before turning to other matters.
Electricity and regional stability
After their meeting, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke to reporters:
“This pipeline will promote peace and friendship. Iran has also decided to export electricity to Pakistan; so far Pakistan takes only 35 megawatts of electricity from Iran but the plan is to import 1,100 megawatts.”
The electricity from Iran will help Pakistan to meet its growing energy demands and reduce recurring power outages -- especially on its south-western coast.
Ahmadinejad and Musharraf also discussed regional security, especially in Afghanistan, saying that peace there was vital for ensuring stability.
The Iranian president held a separate meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to discuss bilateral economic ties. They agreed to focus more on trade and develop the regional economy in the future.Ahmadinejad’s next stop on his whistle-stop tour of South Asia is Sri Lanka. On Tuesday, he is due in India. India has already reportedly rebuked a US official who said New Delhi should urge Ahmadinejad to curtail his nuclear programme when he visits.