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Mar
11

zardari_ahmedi-nejad_pipelineDespite strong opposition from the US and warnings of economic sanctions, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad on Monday officially inaugurated construction work of a delayed $7.5 billion gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan.

The ceremony, which the president’s office described as a ‘big event’, was held in the Iranian border city of Chabahar. Both presidents were accompanied at the ground-breaking by delegations comprising ministers, top officials as well as representatives of several Arab states.

“Pipeline construction to transfer gas from the Islamic Republic to Pakistan … started at the zero point of the border in the presence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported.

Iranian state television showed footage of Ahmadinejad and Zardari shaking hands and offering prayers after unveiling a plaque to mark Pakistan’s involvement.

Dubbed the “peace pipeline”, the project has faced repeated delays since it was conceived in the 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to India via Pakistan.

The Iran-Pakistan pipeline is intended to help Pakistan overcome its mushrooming energy needs at a time when the country is facing increased blackouts and energy shortages.

However, the project has prompted several warnings of sanctions from the United States.

US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has warned if the deal is finalised, it “would raise serious concerns under our Iran Sanctions Act.”

“We’ve made that absolutely clear to our Pakistani counterparts. And just to say again that Iran has proven again and again that it is not a reliable partner,” she said.

But, brushing aside US concerns and pressures, president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Dawn on Sunday that the project was being commissioned purely to meet economic needs of the country and was being executed by two sovereign states.

“The government is going to initiate this important project in view of the energy requirements. The project will bring economic prosperity, provide better opportunities to the people and help defeat militancy,” he said.

The Pakistani foreign office said earlier last week that the country is “not in a fix” on account of US pressure on Pakistan because of Iran being sanctioned.

“We are very clear about this project. It is in our national interest to go ahead with this project,” a foreign office spokesman told a press conference on Thursday. “Pakistan, being an energy deficient country, is hugely suffering both economically and socially.”

Iran has completed 900 km of pipeline on its side of the border and Iranian contractors will also construct the pipeline in Pakistan, Iran’s national broadcasting network IRIB reported.

Tehran has agreed to lend Islamabad $500 million, or a third of the estimated $1.5 billion cost of the 750 km Pakistani section of the pipeline, Fars news agency reported.

The two sides hope the pipeline will be complete in time to start delivery of 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan by December 2014.

Monday’s ceremony comes just days before the five-year term of the ruling Pakistan People’s party government is set to expire, with elections scheduled to be held in mid-may.

India, which was initially slated to be part of the project, quit in 2009, citing costs and security issues, a year after it signed a nuclear deal with Washington.

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