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India still interested in Pak-Iran gas project

30 January, 2014

NEW DELHI: India says that it has not backed out of the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline project, rather it was an excellent Confidence Building Measure (CBM) between the two neighbours as it would create 'inter-dependency' between India and Pakistan.

"If we get cheap gas from Iran and Central Asia till Pakistan, it will be expensive but if India can come into it, it will be cheaper for both because of the sheer scale of the economy," Indian Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid told a visiting Pakistani media delegation at his office in South Block.

When reminded that it was India that 'backed out' from the IP project, Khurshid stood his ground and categorically replied: "India did not back out. Those that invest their money will want to see how serious we are. In fact inter-dependency will increase and 'majboori' will compel both sides to stick together."

In fact, he pointed out that earlier when the Pakistan government reached out to India to export its electricity and gas, New Delhi was not found wanting. "But now we see that there is no urgency (from Pakistan), so what should we do now?" he asked hinting at the lack of 'seriousness' on the issue.

Looking ahead at bilateral relations, the soft spoken Khurshid said it was but inevitable that they will improve because "of the destiny we share." "We have to learn to live in a positive mode to fulfil this destiny. There are complicated political issues but the responsibility is that of the leadership to find a solution in this generation.

"If someone takes this final decision for normalisation (of relations) it will go to his credit but he will also have to take responsibility (for this normalisation)," he minister added.

To a query, he appeared upbeat about an invitation for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan and said: "This is his deepest desire. Not only his desire but also his wish. When he meets Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this issue comes up. But only he can decide," as there was now little time with the Indian general elections due soon.

Even though he conceded that the environment was not conducive to re-start the composite dialogue, pointing to the recent allegations from India about a fresh round of violations at the LoC, he applauded the fact that different tiers of society were meeting each other from both sides, including serving and retired military officials."Everyone at every level is to increase contact and this should continue until it is taken to the level of a movement (by the two countries), he added in an optimistic tone.

On differences he said: "Of course Kashmir is a sensitive issue but Pakistan says that it is moving away from 'old' issues as the youth are not interested and want to move ahead."

Khurshid referred to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who in the recent elections had openly spoken about improving relations with India during his election campaign and had condemned 'whoever' was behind the Mumbai terrorist attack, even then managing to sweep the elections. "If we start this argument we will not benefit. Let us think how we can improve — our prime minister says he is willing to go an extra mile for a lasting and peaceful relationship. But he said that India cannot redraw the (existing) borders and this constraint you have to understand. (Given which), the sky is the limit," the minister added.

Agreeing that water deficiency was not only a matter of urgency for the sub-continent but one faced in other countries of the region like Bangladesh and China, to a query he said that there were complaints from Pakistan. Pakistan of late has complained of suffering as a lower riparian as power projects built by India are drying up this essential resource. "Water is a very important issue for Pakistan as well as for Bangladesh as India is the upper riparian. But we have certain advantages and responsibilities. We have the Indus Waters Basin Treaty which has been a successful model and we have spoken about it to China as well. There are certain interpretations which require to be addressed and in this regard meeting of our secretaries are held. Our contention is any (Indian) water project should not decrease water to Pakistan. There has been no violation but if there is another view then there is a system to address it," Khurshid explained.

When asked if the treaty should be re-visited as some Kashmiris have demanded, the minister said he had not heard of such demands. "A re-visit should not lead to chaos even though every generation should improve upon it. But you cannot start from scratch as it is framed in our constitutions", he said.

On trade the minister said it should be done in a manner so both countries can benefit. "If you give the MFN status to India, actually both countries will benefit. He suggested that another name could be given to it if sensitivities are involved. He said that now there appeared to be a bureaucratic tussle on the low tariff list to decrease items."

Jokingly he remarked that in the Lucknow tradition it was now a matter of , "Phelay aap, phelay aap", syndrome.

When asked of the recent ruling of the Indian supreme court in which the death penalty was convert to a life sentence for several prisoners, and on the other hand Ajmal Kasab was hanged, the minister said that the Supreme Court had ruled in the case of 15 prisoners who had been jailed for a long period. But on the Mumbai trial Khurshid said that though the main accused was long gone there is still evidence present. "Pakistan told us about its legal requirements of cross examination in this case. A commission came here and we gave them evidence. The courts will now decide," he said.

Khurshid in his opening remarks also stressed on the need to address terrorism which he said had 'grievously' hurt India. He said this was an issue that was being felt in Pakistan too. "One has to look seriously into this," he added.

Salman Khurshid said that Pakistan and India would have to do away with their old thinking and take new measures for the solution of problems and lasting peace in the region.

End.

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