Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why India and Pakistan snub US

A MULTI-BILLION-DOLLAR gas pipeline project linking Iran, Pakistan and India that is bitterly opposed by Washington is set to go ahead after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a historic first visit to meet leaders of the new coalition government in Islamabad. Mr Ahmadinejad's arrival to finalise the ambitious Iran-Pakistan-India project, known as the "Peace Pipeline", came just days after India's Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora affirmed New Delhi's support for the pipeline during a visit to Pakistan. Indian participation in the IPI project is seen as a major snub to Washington and a measure of New Delhi's and Islamabad's unwillingness to allow the US todictate the terms of relations with Iran. Pakistan, both under the former dictatorship of President Pervez Musharraf and its new democratic Government, has made plain that it intends to maintain close relations with Tehran. A government official said that after meeting Mr Musharraf, Mr Ahmadinejad would hold talks with new Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. The Government in New Delhi, battling what appears to be insuperable opposition from the country's powerful Leftists over its nuclear deal with the US, reacted angrily last week after a State Department official in Washington demanded it take a tough line in talks with Mr Ahmadinejad when he visits the country. The IPI pipeline is the centrepiece of Iranian ties with South Asia that are rapidly expanding despite US attempts to isolate it over the country's nuclear ambitions. Mr Ahmadinejad arrived in Islamabad from Sri Lanka, which is also developing strong ties with Tehran. Iran is Sri Lanka's biggest supplier of development aid, having provided soft loans for the development of its only oil refinery as well as irrigation and hydropower projects. Iran's involvement in Sri Lanka has grown as Western nations have cut back their assistance while criticising Colombo's human rights record. Welcoming Iran's help, the country's Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona was quoted yesterday as saying: "In Asia we don't go around preaching to our neighbours and friends." Similarly, Iran is embarked on a full-scale attempt to cement relations with Pakistan and India. The pipeline, estimated to cost $7.8 billion and to be completed by 2011, is to traverse 2775km stretching from Iran to Pakistan and then into India. It was first proposed in 1989 by Indian economist and environmental scientist Rajendra Pachauri. It will initially carry 600 cubic metres of gas to India each day, going some way towards providing for the massive amount needed as its economy expands. Protracted discussions over pricing appear to have been overcome following Mr Deora's visit last week to Islamabad. To the chagrin of the US, Mr Ahmadinejad was being feted on his arrival in Islamabad yesterday as one of the new Pakistan Government's best friends. He was also assured Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used in an attack on Iran. The IPI project is one of two strategic pipelines being finalised in the region. Last week, as part of its overall drive for energy security, India signed an agreement covering the US-backed, $3.5 billion Turkmen-istan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project to be financed by the Asian Development Bank. US assurances that gas delivered through that 1680km pipeline would fulfil India's needs have fallen on deaf ears.

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