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Russia pipeline mission flops

New Delhi, June 9: India has turned down yet another Russian proposal to include Pakistan in the gas pipeline deal with Iran.

The issue came up at a meeting in Moscow of the joint working group on energy during foreign minister Yashwant Sinha’s visit to Russia last month. The meeting was held to finalise among other things the participation of ONGC (Videsh) in the Karmangazi oil block exploration, northeast of the Caspian Sea.

Russia wants the pipeline to pass through Pakistan because it can be a party to the deal and can also then bring the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline to India. The Russian gas and oil giant, Gazprom, is a key player in both the proposed projects.

In a cleverly worded paragraph, the Russians proposed in the draft agreement that India was willing to consider the possibility of the gas pipeline passing through Pakistan. But alert Indian officials asked their Russian counterparts to remove the “objectionable” paragraph.

The overland route through Pakistan is the cheapest option, but Delhi has so far rejected any suggestion to bring in Pakistan into the proposed deal on grounds of security. This is despite Islamabad’s offer of guarantees if India agreed to let the pipeline pass through Pakistan.

Though Delhi wants Islamabad to move away from its Kashmir-first policy and strengthen trade and economic cooperation with India, it wants this to happen at the bilateral and Saarc level. Pakistan has so far refused to have normal trade relations with India at either level.

There is a possibility that India may finally agree to let the pipeline pass through Pakistan, but that will be only after it is satisfied that Islamabad has moved away from its policy of “compulsive hostility” towards Delhi.

Russian suggestions to include Pakistan in the pipeline deal have always come at the official level and never at the political level. South Block mandarins feel this may be Moscow’s way of trying to test the waters before making a formal proposal to the political leadership.

Behind the move is Gazprom, which has undertake the pre-feasibility study for the supply of piped gas from Iran to India. Apart from the money it has sunk in the study, Gazprom knows that the pipeline — either through the overland or the sub-sea route — will not be feasible unless India agrees to be the end-user in a deal that allows the pipeline to pass through Pakistan.

In August last year, Gazprom had put forward the proposal to Gas Authority of India Limited.

Early last year, a Russian parliamentary delegation led by Dimitri Rogozin, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Duma, visited Islamabad with representatives of Gazprom to discuss the proposed pipeline with the Pakistani leadership.

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