DELHI NO TO PAK ON PIPELINE DEAL 

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By FROM PRANAY SHARMA
  • Published 23.05.99
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Ashgabad, May 23 :     India today said categorically that Pakistan cannot enter into the proposed natural gas transportation arrangement from the Caspian Sea to South Asia being worked out with Turkmenistan without New Delhi?s consent. Instead, it outlined a plan of setting up of a tri-junction of gas pipelines from Turkmenistan, Oman and Qatar at Bundar Abbas in Iran, from where the gas can be trans-shipped to India without involving Pakistan. The proposed plan is significant since it marks India?s eagerness to do business with Iran, irrespective of US sanctions against Teheran, and also shows its determination of going ahead with plans involving its energy security by not allowing Islamabad to call the shots. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh held discussions with the Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and other senior ministers of his government on Thursday on setting up a Joint Working Group (JWG) of experts to look into the feasibility of transporting natural gas from Turkmenistan to the Indian sub-continent. But at a joint press conference a day later, the Turkmen foreign minister Boris Shikmuradov dropped a brick by making it clear that Pakistan too should be part of the arrangement as India and Turkmenistan do not have a common border. He also pointed out that the proposal was put forward to the Pakistani side and Islamabad had shown its eagerness to be part of the proposed JWG. Singh, however, made it clear that since the JWG was the brainwave of India and Turkmenistan, inclusion of new members would need the consent of both partners. ?It is essentially an agreement between the two sides, though there is provision for including other members it cannot be done unless both sides agree to the inclusion,? the foreign minister said. One reason why Pakistan readily agreed to join in is to perhaps ensure that it does not get left out of any project in Central Asia ? which it regards as its backyard ? and specially in which India is involved. Any such arrangement would increase the risk of Islamabad losing its leverage in the region. But this is what Delhi wants to achieve. India?s past experience has shown that many ambitious projects are being scuttled due to Pakistan?s obduracy. The new thrust in India?s policy in Central Asia is to create a situation where it can go ahead with its own energy needs without giving Pakistan the chance to play the spoiler?s role. But energy needs in Central Asia cannot be taken care of unless India gears itself to play an important role on security issues in the region. Singh made it clear that energy and security cannot be separated. Therefore, if India was to make sure of getting its energy needs fulfilled from Central Asia, it also needs to ensure that there are no dark clouds hanging over the security of the region. In this context an early solution of the Afghanistan conflict is necessary. India feels the main issue before the Central Asian Republics today is the current situation in Afghanistan. In the past India has played an important role in Afghanistan. This was partly due to its reluctance to openly criticise the Soviet Union during its occupation of Kabul in the late 1970?s and early 1980?s and after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops due to the political instability in Delhi. The frequent changes of government in India left it with little time to concentrate in Afghanistan and Central Asia. However, what could be the beginning of a change in India?s attitude towards the region the foreign minister held a meeting with the heads of the mission of the Central Asian Republics at the Turkmen Capital yesterday. Since Pakistan is a key factor in this new policy India?s ambassador to Islamabad G. Parthasarthy and the joint secretary heading the Pakistan division in South Block, Vivek Katju, were also asked to attend the meeting. Though Singh refused to divulge the details of the new policy, he admitted that his visit has been fruitful and he looked back on it with a sense of ?achievement?. One reason for this satisfaction on Singh?s part could be the response he got from both the Uzbeks and the Turkmens on taking India?s concerns into account for finding a lasting solution in Afghanistan. This in other words mean that though Delhi may continue to be out of the six plus two arrangement set up by the UN to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan, nothing meaningful can be achieved without consulting India and taking its view on the contentious issue.