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Aiyar packs pipeline punch in Pak
- Petroleum minister wins Islamabad approval for role in three-nation oil grid

Islamabad, June 5: Union petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar today paved India’s way for entering the tripartite talks on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline (TAP). He has also been able to forge a closer link with Pakistan on bringing down the price of the gas that the two countries plan to import through the on-land pipeline from Iran.

Aiyar told reporters after a meeting with Pakistan petroleum minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon that Pakistan has “formally invited us to join the talks on TAP and India has signalled its readiness to accept the offer”.

He said India would be attending the next round of TAP talks scheduled for July in Turkmenistan.

The minister said the reserves of gas in Turkmenistan were being re-assessed by reputed international consultants, Degoyle and Macnaughton, while the Asian Development Bank was carrying out a separate study on it.

Since Turkmenistan has committed to supply gas to Russia, the surplus gas available for export through TAP is being estimated afresh. Aiyar said talks on the co-operation between Indian and Pakistan in the hydrocarbon sector had just begun and the ambit was being broadened to include the possibility of importing gas from Qatar and Russia as well.

He said the two countries had agreed that the gas imported from Iran should be affordable for the buyers and at the same time remunerative enough for Iran.

Aiyar said he was confident of settling the ticklish transit fee to be paid to Pakistan for the laying the pipeline through its territory. India has taken the stand that the price of delivered gas must be linked to coal, which is the alternative fuel for India. Since natural gas is used mainly in the power and fertiliser sectors, India has insisted that the cost of electricity and fertilisers be kept in mind while fixing the price of the gas.

The minister, however, denied that there was any US pressure to drop the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project as Washington considers Iran a rogue nuclear state.

There is a growing opinion here that Pakistan may not actually go ahead with the pipeline from Iran due to the US viewpoint that Islamabad cannot afford to overlook. As a result, the chances of TAP coming through are brighter.

President Pervez Musharraf is also on a tour to Qatar to tie up alternative gas supplies. Pakistan is planning to lay a sub-sea pipeline for importing gas from Qatar and is also keeping open the option of bringing the gas in liquefied form on ships. This would reduce Pakistan’s dependence on Iran. Musharraf has also visited the UAE to strengthen Pakistani ties with the energy-rich country.

Aiyar said another significant breakthrough in today’s talks was India and Pakistan agreeing to share their knowledge in the oil and gas sector so that the two countries can come together as joint buyers to get a better price from international sellers.

As part of this greater knowledge-sharing exercise, Gail (India) made a detailed presentation on India’s requirements of gas and its security concerns over the proposed pipeline from Iran.

Pakistan will also be making a similar presentation on the availability and projected needs of oil and gas in the future.

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