Pakistan on Thursday denied reports that it might pull out of the multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project amidst allegedly renewed efforts by the United States to convince Islamabad to abandon the project.
The $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project has run into repeated difficulties over US opposition because of Iran’s nuclear programme and Pakistan’s difficulty in finding funds.
“It is a project which is in our national interest and we are determined to pursue it,” Foreign Office spokesperson Moazzam Ahmed Khan told a weekly press briefing.
Khan’s reaction comes against the backdrop of recent speculation sparked by a delay in President Asif Zardari’s scheduled trip to Iran last week.
Meanwhile, following talks between senior Pakistani and US officials, Washington also offered help to Islamabad to address the country’s energy woes.
Following talks between Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and US Ambassador Richard Olson and Senior Adviser to Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Robin Raphel, the US agreed to provide $200 million for the construction of Diamer- Bhasha Dam.
According to an official statement, the US would assist Pakistan in every possible way to overcome the energy crisis. However, sources claimed the assistance is linked with Pakistan agreeing to drop its plans to import natural gas from Iran.
Furthermore, sources disclosed that the new US ambassador was making frantic efforts to ensure Pakistan stop pursuing the pipeline.
A foreign ministry official, requesting anonymity, said Zardari’s Tehran trip was delayed at the eleventh hour after intervention from the US and Saudi Arabia.
However, the foreign ministry spokesperson denied any such reports. “As far as I remember, we did not make any announcement regarding the president’s Iran visit. All I can say is that the visit is expected, and we are working on that,” Khan added.
Pakistan withdraws embassy staff from Syria
Khan also confirmed that Pakistan has withdrawn its diplomatic staff from Syria due to deteriorating security in the country.
“We have temporarily withdrawn our diplomatic staff, including the ambassador, from Syria and they have all returned home,” he said.
Three to four embassy staff and its ambassador were evacuated because of the “deteriorating security situation”, the spokesman said. The embassy is not closed, however, and staff will return “once the situation returns to normal,” Khan added.
More than 42,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the nearly two-year insurrection against President Bashar al Assad.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2012.