Pakistan will not abandon the multibillion-dollar Iran gas pipeline project, despite the threat of sanctions from the United States if Islamabad went ahead with the plan.
“There is no change in our stance and we are working to complete the project by 2014. We believe that this project is beyond the scope of the relevant UN resolutions which we are obliged to comply with like all other member states,” said Abdul Basit, the foreign ministry spokesperson, on Thursday. The ‘scope’ he mentions refers to sanctions the UN imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme.
For this reason, Washington is pushing Islamabad to give up the plan to import gas from neighbouring Iran. However, the government has so far publicly resisted the pressure, arguing the project is vital for the country’s energy needs.
Basit said that Pakistan has studied the US legislation about sanctions on Iran and it is clear they do not cover the Pak-Iran gas pipeline. The spokesman added that Pakistan had repeatedly said that Iran’s nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through negotiation and dialogue by the international community.
To a question on media reports about the Iranian President’s visit to Pakistan, he said: “No such bilateral visit between Pakistan and Iran has been finalised yet.”
When his attention was drawn to US special envoy Marc Grossman’s statement that the US is ready to engage with Pakistan anywhere and anytime, Basit said: “There is no disengagement. We are engaged through diplomatic channels.”
“The US Ambassador in Pakistan is very active and met the foreign minister the day before yesterday and our ambassador in Washington has been meeting senior officials. However, interaction at the political level will have to wait till the completion of our parliamentary process underway to rewrite terms of engagement with the US and Nato,” he said.
On President Obama’s recent address, in which he stated the US would continue to fight against al Qaeda and terrorists hiding in Afghanistan, Basit said: “We share the US objective of eliminating al Qaeda and militancy.”
Basit denied any knowledge of Pakistani foreign office staff working towards the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar. “I am not aware of any such engagement,” he said.
Regarding Afghanistan, Basit said the foreign minister would visit Kabul on the invitation of the Afghan side. “You will agree with me that bilateral and trilateral processes complement each other. We are not supplanting one with the other. We have always tried to build strong bilateral ties with Afghanistan. We have also pursued other tracks to promote peace in Afghanistan. These bilateral, trilateral or multilateral tracks are not mutually exclusive,” he said.
The spokesman, though, was quick to emphasise that peace in Afghanistan was Pakistan’s priority in the country. “We have always categorically said that we would be supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-sponsored reconciliation process. This continues to be our position. We will support any effort that leads to reconciliation and political stability in Afghanistan,” he said.
On India’s bid to buy a new nuclear submarine from Russia and whether it would start a new arms race in South Asia, he said: “Pakistan-Russia relations are significantly improving. We are trying to expand the scope of relations.”
“I think it is important that all countries in the region should be mindful of the fact that an arms race is in no one’s interest. This region is suffering from poverty and disease. It is important we focus on economic development. Millions of people are still living below the proverbial poverty line.” Basit added.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2012.