NATIONAL

Aiyar starts Pakistan visit

B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD: Petroleum and Panchayat Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar arrived in Lahore on Saturday evening on an official visit. Mr. Aiyar will hold discussions with his Pakistani counterpart on energy cooperation between India and Pakistan and exchange views on the working of the local bodies system in Pakistan.

Mr. Aiyar, who crossed the border into Pakistan at Wagha along with a 16-member delegation, told reporters that his talks on energy cooperation would cover various options Islamabad was exploring for gas pipelines. "We want to hold talks on both the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) Gas Pipeline Project and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan (TAP) Gas Pipelines project to see the possibility of making it TAP-India," he said.

With the peace process gaining momentum, India and Pakistan are exploring possibilities of energy cooperation.

The proposed Iran gas pipeline, pending for several years, got a fresh lease of life after India announced last year that it was willing to consider the option. Besides the IPI and the TAP, Islamabad is also looking at the option of gas pipelines from Qatar.

Mr. Aiyar said India had already held in-depth talks with Iranian officials about the IPI gas pipeline project and desired a similar exchange of views with Pakistani officials covering all aspects.

"In last September Foreign Ministers of the two countries discussed this issue and expressed desire for progress in the matter. Later, this issue also came under discussion when President Pervez Musharraf and the Indian Prime Minister met in New York," Mr. Aiyar said.

IPI project

Mr. Aiyar said India wanted to discuss technical and financial aspects of the IPI project to obtain gas at reasonable rate in sufficient quantity. Asked about India's security concerns regarding the project, he said "as Pakistan has expressed its willingness to address our concerns in this regard now we want to tell them in detail in this regard."

On possibility of American pressure regarding the IPI project, he said, "There is no pressure in this regard. Nobody can pressurise us. We would not accept anybody's pressure." Later, at an interactive session organised by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) in Lahore, Mr. Aiyar said Washington had not taken up the issue with India.

Pipeline project

On the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipelines project, he said as India needed energy it would like to discuss the possibility of extension of this pipeline to India. "We understand that study regarding the TAP have been completed. However, my Pakistan counterpart would be in a better position to throw light on the subject," Mr. Aiyar said.

`Message of peace'

The Minister said he would also discuss matters like exclusion of diesel and some other petroleum products from negative list of trade between India and Pakistan.

"I am also impressed by the devolution plan introduced in Pakistan. I have met a number of Nazimeen and during my stay in Pakistan I would also meet Chairman National Reconstruction Bureau, Danial Aziz," Mr. Aiyar pointed out.

In a brief statement, Mr. Aiyar said, "I have brought the message of peace, love and brotherhood for the people of Pakistan from the people of India. I know people of Pakistan have great love for the people of India. I had been the Consul-General of India in Pakistan at Karachi. I left Karachi in 1982 and since then I have visited the country several times."

Mr. Aiyar would arrive here tomorrow morning to meet his counterpart. Amanullah Khan Jadoon. Last week he told presspersons in New Delhi that from India's side, the actual construction of the IPI pipeline would be the job of Iran and Pakistan.

India's role would be to negotiate a price for the gas if the pipeline reaches its border.

Open mind

"There are two sets of agreements. Iran and India have to agree on a price. Iran and Pakistan have to agree on building the pipeline.

There could be a necessity for a tri-lateral meeting to outline the terms. If and when they issue a tender, Indian companies could bid for work. I am keeping an open mind on that," Mr. Aiyar had said.

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