Gas pipeline project 'impossible' under US sanctions, Pakistan tells Iran

In this April 22, 2019 file photo, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan are addressing a joint press conference in Tehran. Pakistan has informed Iran in writing that it cannot execute the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as long as Tehran is under a United States sanctions regime. (AFP)
Updated 11 May 2019
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Gas pipeline project 'impossible' under US sanctions, Pakistan tells Iran

  • Iran issued notice to Pakistan in February threatening international arbitration over failure to fulfil agreement
  • Pakistan may have to pay billions in penalties if Iran goes to court, has until August to respond to Tehran

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has informed Iran in writing that it cannot execute the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as long as Tehran is under a United States sanctions regime, a top official at Pakistan’s state-owned Inter State Gas Systems said on Friday, driving a final nail in the coffin of a project that was conceived in the 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to India via Pakistan.
The US has steadfastly opposed Pakistani and Indian involvement in the $7 billion project, saying it violates sanctions. India quit the project in 2009, citing costs and security issues, a year after it signed a nuclear deal with Washington.
US sanctions against Iran are a major hindrance for most gas pipeline projects in the region. The President Donald Trump administration has warned countries around the world to stop buying Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own. Washington’s European allies have tried and failed to come up with ways to blunt the economic impact of the US move.
“Under present US sanctions on Iran, it is impossible to execute the IP [Iran-Pakistan] gas pipeline project and we have conveyed it to them [Iran] in writing recently,” Mobin Saulat, the managing director of Inter State Gas Systems told Arab News.
The company, which falls under the Pakistani Ministry of Energy’s Petroleum Division, has been mandated by the government to develop natural gas import projects, including the Iran-Pakistan pipeline.
A new round of negotiations was recently launched between Pakistan and Iran after Tehran formally issued a notice to Islamabad in February this year, saying it was moving an arbitration court against Pakistan for failing to lay down the pipeline in Pakistani territory in the timeframe stipulated in the bilateral agreement.
“We have time till August this year to legally respond to Iran’s legal notice and settle the issue through negotiations,” Saulat said. “We are hopeful to find a solution through discussions with Iranian officials.”
Under an agreement signed between the two countries in 2009, the project was to be completed by December 2014 and would deliver 21.5 million cubic meters (760,000 million cubic feet) of gas per day to Pakistan. It was to be constructed using a segmented approach – Iran had to lay down the pipeline on its side and Pakistan was supposed to build the pipeline on its territory.
Under a penalty clause, Pakistan is bound to pay $1 million per day to Iran from January 1, 2015 for failing to build its part of the pipeline. If Iran takes the case to an arbitration court, Pakistan will likely to have to pay billions of dollars as penalty.
Saulat said Pakistan was still committed to executing the project, but only if international sanctions on Iran were lifted.
“We cannot risk US sanctions by going ahead with the project as America has clearly said that anybody who will work with Iran will also be sanctioned,” Saulat said.
He said Iranian authorities were of the view that US sanctions did not apply to the IP gas project, adding that Pakistan had thus sent Tehran a questionnaire to ascertain exactly how that was the case.
“We may not have a weak case if Iran moves the international court,” Saulat said. “We are trying to handle it professionally.”


In Peshawar prison, women inmates share food and prayers in Ramadan

Updated 59 min 18 sec ago
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In Peshawar prison, women inmates share food and prayers in Ramadan

PESHAWAR: Located next to iconic landmarks like the Provincial Assembly and the High Court, the central prison in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar is a handsome old building bursting at the seams with over 1,800 prisoners. 38 of them are women.

The existing building was established in 1854 with an occupancy limit of 425 prisoners, but with the influx of thousands of inmates, a new block is now under construction and slated for completion by the end of the year. 

Inside the prison kitchens, convicted prisoners make round traditional bread and prepare Iftar meals for other inmates. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

The prison department provides basic facilities and food to inmates still under trial and to those convicted in the male, female and juvenile sections. During the month of Ramadan, these facilities extend to include special meals at Iftar, like sweet rice, chicken and potatoes served with a side of milky hot tea. 

A female inmate cooks chicken gravy for herself and other prisoners in the prison barracks before Iftar. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

“We get good food in this month (of Ramadan) and are free to offer our prayers and recite the Holy Quran at any time,” said Shahida, an inmate who has been in the prison for five years but was convicted for murder late last year. 

Acting superintendent of the prison releases prisoners after the court orders arrive. The inmates receive the good news right before Iftar time in Ramadan. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

The large hall of the women’s section has a scattering of beds, but most inmates sleep, eat and pray on quilts spread out on the floor. 

A police officer stands guard outside the entrance to the women’s section in Peshawar’s central jail. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

"Some of the women get sick often,” said Iffat Shaheen, assistant superintendent of the women’s prison section. “Right now we have two pregnancy cases and one case of HIV AIDS, so we try to give them good meals. A few prisoners have small children inside prison with them and they get milk as well.” 

A female inmate gives English lessons to some of the children at the Peshawar central prison. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

Another female inmate convicted for possession of drugs has been in prison for seven months. She declined to be identified but said they had a lot of free time in Ramadan that could be put to good use. 

Women in Peshawar’s central prison spend their days reading the Quran and reciting prayer beads during the month of Ramadan. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

“This is a helpful time for us to learn skills like handicrafts and sewing,” she said. “When we leave prison, perhaps these things will pave the way for a good, halal living.” 

A woman inmate at Peshawar’s central jail has decorated her hands with henna in anticipation of the holy festival of Eid, which will mark the end of Ramadan. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)
Rooh Afza, a popular indigenous drink made from herbs and flowers, is served around Peshawar’s central prison by the bucketfuls before Iftar. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)
Weekly menu written out for prisoners at Peshawar’s central jail in Urdu. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)