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Aiyer's dream: The Asian gas grid

June 04, 2005 23:51 IST

Petroleum and Gas minister Mani Shankar Aiyar reached Pakistan on Saturday in his quest for energy to answer India's ever increasing industrial needs.

According to Talmiz Ahmed, senior diplomat who is on deputation to petroleum ministry and is the additional secretary dealing with international co-operation, Aiyar's visit is significant because it is part of his vision for the Asian gas grid.

"Already in North Asia, and particularly in Russia, such pipelines do exist. Aiyar has envisaged the linking of major pipeline all over Asia. One of the possibilities under consideration is the linking of Central Asian pipeline with the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. We are also looking into the possibility of a pipeline going across India till Southern China," Said Ahmed in an exclusive chat with rediff.com.

He said it's necessary for India to hear from the Pakistan authorities what they think about the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project.

Ahmed, who is accompanying Aiyar to Pakistan said, "Although we have seen numerous press reports on the subject, we have no direct inputs from Pakistan leadership on the subject. After all it's a triangular relation."

He said Aiyar will try to build the political mandate necessary for the project.

Explaining the structure of Aiyar's visit, he said, "The first item on our agenda is to gauge their mood on the project. If we find that Pakistan is positive about it then we will work out modalities for the political mandate that the three countries will have to provide jointly to this agreement."

India has done a lot of studies regarding the project and Iran has also done many studies but a joint study is urgently needed, said Ahmed.

Aiyar's main objective will be to convince Pakistan to agree for this joint study.

Once Aiyar gets the positive signals from Pakistan, the Indian side will plan talks on the technicalities.

India and Pakistan will also be interested to know at what price the gas will be provided.

Also, Iran and India will be interested in discussing security matters. Ahmed said, "India is aware that there are international safeguards available to such projects but the ministry will discuss if anything more is required."

The next step will be the concrete step. On June 12, after his visit to Pakistan, Aiyar will visit Iran to brief them about his Pakistan visit.

When asked about America's reservations about the project, Ahmed dismissed the question and said, "When Condoleezza Rice visited India, she said America has concerns about the project and they have been conveyed to India. She also said, the US understands India's energy security requirements. Immediately, in the same press conference Foreign Minister Natwar Singh expressed India's commitment to the pipeline project."

When asked who will come forward to fund the huge project in the absence of American multi-nationals, Ahmed said, "Iranians have informed us that last year more than $10 billion has been invested in Iran by all the major non-American oil companies. They are all working in Iran today."

So far, the Indian government has talked only about Iran's and India's agreement. The official view so far has been that India's major concern is the supply of gas at its doorstep. The deal for the transit passage will be worked out by Iran and Pakistan without India's involvement. When asked, what the need to talk to Pakistan directly is in such an arrangement, Ahmed said, "We may not be concerned about the detail of the agreement, but we are deeply concerned about the security of the pipeline. After all, we will be spending millions of dollars on our infrastructure to take delivery of the gas at our borders and we will be dependent on supply of gas. We have legitimate interest in knowing how the gas will reach our borders."

While emphasising the importance of the project, Ahmed said, "India requires this gas to run its power projects and there is no viable alternative. The power ministry has given us the projection of their need and their requirement is much more than we will be providing them."

When asked about the unrest in Baluchistan, from where the pipeline is expected to pass though, he said, "Baluchistan is an internal dispute and all nations in the world have such territories. It's for Pakistan to ensure that it meets obligation promised under the trilateral agreement. Pakistan has consistently suggested in the last few months that it is serious about the project."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi