RE - Notwithstanding the US threats, Pakistan has not only conveyed its willingness to Iran, it has also stepped up the pace of work on Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project.
Highly-placed diplomatic sources told TheNation that the project, which was likely to be completed in 2014, may be completed at least a year in advance and the gas flow would start between June and December 2013.
Sources said upset on finding about rapid progress on the project, the Obama administration appears to be tooth and nail against resumption of work. They have gone to the extent of threatening President Zardari of economic sanctions if work is not stopped immediately, the sources said, adding the President told them bluntly that commissioning of this project was absolutely essential and inevitable for Pakistans economy that is fast crumbling.
It may be recalled that American Ambassador Cameron Munter called on President Zardari few weeks back and expressed Washingtons strong concern over the proposed pipeline project. The envoy at a function in Lahore on Nov 26 also stated that the Pak-Iran pipeline was not a good idea and getting gas from Turkmenistan would be better for Islamabad.
When contacted, Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain confided to TheNation that all physical surveys to lay 790-kilometre pipeline inside Pakistan have already been completed. China, ICPC and Habib Bank Limited have been chosen to act as financial advisers. China has also given assurances to financially help Pakistan construct this pipeline to complete this project on war footing.
Putting the estimated cost at $1.2, Dr Asim said: Our dependence on Pak-Iran pipeline was very high and there is no other substitute at present to meet the growing demand for energy.
He said a meeting of the Steering Committee comprising of four provincial chief ministers has been convened on December 24 (Thursday) which would give a formal clearance before the tenders are floated to already short-listed contractors.
Dr Asim said Pakistan would be importing gas worth 200 to 250 million US dollars every month that would culminate into three billion US dollars annually.
Asked how Pakistan would sustain unprecedented American pressure against this project, the minister said: Come what may, we will have to learn to live on our own.
He said negotiations were on with his Iranian counterpart to ensure that gas prices through Pak-Iran pipeline were lower than TAPI gas and there was a strong possibility that Tehran would agree to Islamabads demand.
While the Foreign Office refused to comment on this development and referred this correspondent to talk to officials of the concerned Ministry, a well-informed source said the US civil and military establishment was terribly annoyed with President Zardari for not accepting two major demands - shelving of the Pak-Iran pipeline and removal of Chief of Army Staff and ISI chief.
He said the Pentagon is of the view that Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha were behind stoppage of Nato supplies and evacuation of Shamsi Airbase that had not only caused embarrassment to the US administration but had also made it very difficult for allied forces to continue their operation inside Afghanistan.