Pakistan, Iran ink gas deal despite US threats

  • Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times, Islamabad
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  • Updated: Mar 12, 2013 09:44 IST

Amid scepticism whether the project would go ahead, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari along with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad signed an agreement on Monday for the construction and completion of a multi-billion dollar Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline in Chahbahar, Iran.

Advisor to the President, Mirza Ikhtiar Baig, told the media in Islamabad that the gas pipeline would become a reality and the bigger challenge for its construction is security and not challenge from the US.

The contentious gas pipeline project was inaugurated by Zardari as he pulled the rope to reveal the foundation-laying plaque on the Pakistan-Iran border for the 1,600-km-long pipeline. A 300-member strong Pakistani delegation attended the ceremony.

The pipeline has seen its share of sceptics in Pakistan as well where many say that it is an election gimmick ahead of the polls. "We all know that the government cannot afford to annoy the US but it is doing this so that it can show to Pakistanis that it is serious about solving the country's mounting power crisis," said analyst Aisha Siddiqa.

Opposition leader and spokesman Nisar Ali Khan told reporters that while his party welcomed the agreement, "what happens next remains to be seen." The law and order situation in Balochistan, where a large portion of the pipeline is to be laid on the Pakistan side is a greater challenge, say observers.

Tehran has agreed to lend Islamabad $500 million, or a third of the estimated $1.5 billion cost of the 750-km Pakistani section of the pipeline.

The US has issued warnings to invoke economic sanctions already in place against Iran if Pakistan went ahead with the project. The crisis brewing between US and Pakistan may come to a head in coming weeks.

 

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