As Pakistan eyes $3bn gas pipeline, experts suggest 'treading carefully' amid Russia sanctions

This undated generic photo shared by Inter State Gas Systems (ISGS)'s website shows Gas Distribution Pipelines. (Photo courtesy: ISGS/File)
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Updated 20 March 2022

As Pakistan eyes $3bn gas pipeline, experts suggest 'treading carefully' amid Russia sanctions

  • The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline will be built with financial, technical support from Russia
  • Michael Kugelman says from purely energy-security standpoint, the project would be a big win for Islamabad if goes ahead

KARACHI: As Pakistan plans groundbreaking of around $3 billion gas pipeline by the year-end with financial and technical support from Russia, experts have suggested Islamabad to "tread carefully" and being skeptical of the materialization of the project after sanctions slapped on Russia for invading Ukraine.    

In 2015, Islamabad and Moscow signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for the construction of a 1100-kilometer-long pipeline to carry 1.6 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) gas from Karachi to Lahore. In the initial agreement, Russia was supposed to provide almost 84% of the financing with pipeline operation rights for 25 years. But in May 2021, an amendment to the original agreement was made, which now allows Pakistan to hold the majority 74% stakes in the project, while Moscow will have the remaining 26% shares.  

Pakistan and Russia agreed to move forward on the project, the North South Gas Pipeline (NSGP) renamed as the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP), during Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Moscow in February, which coincided with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Most of the work on the project has been completed and both sides were "on track and targeting for the groundbreaking later this year" after front-end engineering and design study that require up to seven months, according to Pakistan’s energy minister, Hammad Azhar, who was accompanying PM Khan on the Moscow visit. 

Though no statement has been issued from either side since the Russian invasion, but officials say the project is "intact" as per the plan. 

“Both countries have signed modalities for the project and they will come for assessment,” Muzzamil Aslam, a spokesman for Pakistan’s energy ministry, told Arab News earlier this week. “It is intact as per the plan and the policy.”   

Aslam, however, believed neither of the parties had discussed the project since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. 

“I don’t think the two parties have further deliberated on the project after the problems in Russia,” he said. “The project is in the preliminary stages and will come to ECNEC (Executive Committee of the National Economic Council) and the ECC (Economic Coordination Committee) at later stages.” 

Pakistan, which is currently facing depletion of local gas reserves at a rate of 9 percent per annum, largely depends on external sources to meet its energy needs. 

“From a purely energy security standpoint, this project would be a big win for Islamabad, if it goes ahead,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director for the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center think-tank, told Arab News on Saturday. 

“Pakistan is energy-deficient, other gas pipeline projects like TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) and the one with Iran have lapsed, and it would help Pakistan’s goal of deepening ties through connectivity,” Kugelman said.  

“In effect, it would help move the needle forward on the much-ballyhooed shift from geopolitics to geo-economics. It would also be a win for Russia, isolated and sanctioned, which would welcome the revenue and engagement that would come from the project.”  

But some analysts believe that the image of PM Khan standing with the Russian president on the day of the invasion of Ukraine has displeased the South Asian country’s major trading partners, the United States (US) and Europe. 

“The US is not happy with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s embrace of Russia at a time when Russia is an international pariah,” Husain Haqqani, a scholar at the Hudson Institute in Washington and the former Pakistan ambassador to the US, told Arab News.  

“The image of him standing next to Putin on the day of the invasion of Ukraine will adversely affect US-Pakistan relations for some time.” 

Kugelman agreed with Haqqani and suggested Islamabad to "tread carefully," pointing to some major geopolitical and diplomatic risks. 

“There certainly are major geopolitical and diplomatic risks at play. Islamabad may be resorting to anti-West rhetoric for domestic political reasons, but it has important trade relationships with Western countries, especially in Europe,” the expert said. 

“So, Pakistan will need to tread carefully. It wouldn’t want to lose those links with the West by going afoul of sanctions. India, with its much deeper and broader based relations with the West, has more of a safety net and doesn’t need to worry as much about angering the West and suffering blows to its relations with them.” 

Terming the project "unrealistic," analysts said the translation of Pakistan's pipeline dream with Russians would remain unmaterialized.   

“The irony is Pakistan will not get anything from Russia while it is under international sanctions. Gas pipelines take many years to build and cost a lot of money,” Haqqani said.  

“Pakistan’s plans for a gas pipeline from Iran were also never fulfilled. Announcing such projects is unrealistic and reflects the tendency of Pakistan’s leaders to try and get a positive headline for a day, rather than focusing on realistic economic plans.” 

Islamabad has also signed an agreement with Iran for the construction of the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline. Under the agreement signed in 2009, the project was to be completed by December 2014 and deliver 760,000 million cubic feet of gas per day to Pakistan. 

The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project aims to bring natural gas from the Gylkynish and adjacent gas fields in Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. TAPI project was signed by the four countries in February 2016.  

Besides sanctions, analysts said Russia might also face pressure from India, which is a longtime friend of Moscow. 

“Also, Russia will likely face pressure from India, its longtime friend, not to go through with it. So there will be hesitation from both sides,” Kugelman said. “In the end, though both countries have compelling reasons — economic, strategic and energy-related — to try to go through with it.”  

Despite a delay in the PSGP project since 2015, Pakistan also plans to import Russian gas through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to energy minister. 


Ex-PM’s principal secretary says he handed over missing cypher to Khan — finance minister

Updated 7 sec ago

Ex-PM’s principal secretary says he handed over missing cypher to Khan — finance minister

  • Ruling party leader Maryam Nawaz says Khan’s residence should be raided to recover cypher
  • Finance minister says government will take mater to logical end under Official Secrets Act

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Saturday said former premier Imran Khan’s principal secretary, Azam Khan, has admitted he gave the controversial cypher—which forms the basis of Khan’s “foreign conspiracy allegations”—to the ex-PM.  

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government said on Friday that a copy of the diplomatic cypher, based on a meeting between then Pakistani Ambassador to the US Asad Majeed and State Department official Donald Lu, was "missing" from the record of the PM's office. 

Khan, ousted via a parliamentary vote in April, has alleged Washington orchestrated the movement to remove him from office. The former prime minister’s political opponents, who are now in the government, have rubbished the allegations that the US also denies. 

The matter once again became a topic of public debate after the emergence of another purported audio clip online on Friday, involving Khan, his then principal secretary Azam Khan and two top aides, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar. 

“When the current principal secretary [Tauqir Hussain Shah] to PM Shehbaz Sharif inquired about the cypher’s whereabouts over the phone from former secretary [Azam Khan] to then Prime Minister Khan, he said that he had handed it over to Khan,” Dar told reporters at a news conference.  

He added the cypher is “an official, sacred document” which is the property of the Prime Minister's House. The finance minister was flanked by members of the federal cabinet and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz.  

Dar said the cypher was a secret document whose contents should not have been disclosed to anyone. He accused Khan of developing an anti-government narrative around it.  

In one of the audio leaks released earlier this week, former PM Khan’s principal secretary can be heard advising him to hold a meeting with then foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Khan and the then foreign secretary to discuss the cypher.  

“Qureshi would read out the letter and whatever he reads out, we will turn it into a copy. I will do that in the minutes [of the meeting] that the Foreign Secretary has told this. Then the analysis will be done here [at the PM Office],” the former principal secretary said.  

“We will do analysis of minutes [of meeting] of our own choice, this way minutes would be on the records of the [PM] office. The analysis will be that [the cypher] was a threat,” Khan’s former principal secretary had said.  

Referring to the conversation, Dar raised suspicion that the cypher was missing from the Prime Minister’s House but the minutes of the meeting were present there. The finance minister said the language of the minutes pointed out that it could not be used by any diplomat. He said the government wanted to compare it to the original cypher.  

It has now been established, he said, that the conspiracy was not hatched by the then opposition but by Khan’s party which now stands completely exposed.   

“We will be failing in our national duty, failing in our oath, failing in our constitutional duty, if we will not take appropriate action on this,” Dar added. 

In this regard, he added that a detailed meeting of the National Security Committee and the cabinet had already taken place, adding that the issue could not be ignored.  

“This is an unpardonable offense and we will commit treason if we will not take it to its logical conclusion,” he said. “The decision has been taken to fulfill our national duty to take this matter forward under the Official Secrets Act and according to the law and constitution,” he added. 

Nawaz demanded a public apology from Khan, accusing him of misusing a sensitive diplomatic document to harm the country’s interests and foreign relations with the US.  

“You have tampered with a very sensitive document related to the country. You have conspired against Pakistan’s diplomatic relations,” she added. 

She said PM Sharif had informed her that countries were not willing to communicate with Pakistan out of fear that their messages would be used for political purposes.  

“He should seek an apology from the nation for playing with the country’s national interest and waving a fake letter in front of them,” she added. 

 Nawaz said Khan’s Bani Gala residence should be raided to recover the cypher. 

“The government should raid Bani Gala to recover the copy of the cypher and the original minutes of the meeting,” she said, citing the FBI’s raid at the palatial residence of former US president Donald Trump as a reference.


Islamabad magistrate issues arrest warrant for ex-PM Imran Khan

Updated 01 October 2022

Islamabad magistrate issues arrest warrant for ex-PM Imran Khan

  • Khan has been accused of threatening judge in impassioned speech on August 20
  • Former PM submits affidavit in court saying ready to apologize to judge

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad magistrate Rana Mujahid Rahim on Saturday issued an arrest warrant for former Prime Minister Imran Khan for allegedly threatening a woman judge at a rally in August.
 The arrest warrant, seen by Arab News, includes four sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). These include sections 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 189 (threat of injury to public servant), and 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant).
Khan had criticized Chaudhry in an impassioned speech during a rally on August 20 in Islamabad's F-9 park. The rally was held to protest his chief of staff Dr. Shahbaz Gill's arrest. At the rally, the ex-premier promised his supporters he would not “spare” the Islamabad inspector general and deputy inspector general of police, adding his party would also “take action” against Chaudhry, who had remanded Gill in police custody.
However, Islamabad Police clarified that the warrant was issued to ensure Khan appeared before the court in the next hearing of the case since he had missed the previous one. It said the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had thrown out terror charges against Khan, after which the case against him for criticizing the judge was shifted to a session court.

 

 

“Imran Khan has still not obtained bail from the session court,” Islamabad Police wrote on Twitter. “In case he does not appear [for the next hearing], he can be arrested. We request people not to heed rumors.”
Asad Umar, secretary-general of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, warned authorities against arresting the former premier. "Don't make the mistake of taking Imran Khan into custody. You will regret it," he wrote on Twitter.

 

 

The IHC took notice of the speech and accused the ex-premier of threatening her in a contempt of court case. However, after Khan’s apology in court last week, the IHC—expected to indict the former premier—said it was satisfied with his response and asked him to submit a written affidavit.
 On Friday, Khan appeared before Chaudhry’s court to tender an apology in person but she was reportedly on leave. In an affidavit that Khan submitted at the IHC earlier today,  Saturday, the politician said he had struggled for the respect and independence of the judiciary in Pakistan for the past 26 years.
“That the deponent realized during these proceedings before the Honourable Court that the deponent might have crossed a red line while making public speech on 20 August 2022,” he wrote.
Khan said he never meant to threaten the judge and that “there was no intention behind the statement to take any action other than a legal action.”
The ex-premier said he was willing to explain and clarify before Chaudhry that neither he nor his party sought or intended to seek any action against her. “The deponent is willing to apologize to the Hon'ble Judge if she got an impression that the deponent had crossed a line,” he added.
Khan assured the court he would never do anything in future that would hurt the dignity of any court and the judiciary, especially the lower judiciary.
The cricket-star turned politician has faced a barrage of legal woes since his ouster in a vote of no-confidence in April by a united opposition led by his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.


Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes

Updated 01 October 2022

Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes

  • At least 36 people believed to have died when security forces opened fire on demonstrators
  • Protests broke out in Zahedan after an outcry over the rape of a 15-year-old girl

QUETTA: Communication services were down in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on Saturday, after a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander was killed in clashes.  

Protests broke out in the capital of the Sistan and Balochistan province bordering Pakistan on Friday after an outcry over the rape of a 15-year-old Baloch girl, allegedly by a local military commander.

Ali Mousavi, IRGC intelligence chief of Sistan and Balochistan, was shot during the confrontation with protesters. The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported he was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Residents of southeast Iran's Zahedan city tend to a wounded person after police shot at protesters on Sept. 30, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Muhammad Asif)

The killing was claimed by the Jaish Al-Adl militant group, which says it is fighting for the independence of Sistan and Baluchistan and greater rights for Baloch people, who are the main ethnic group in the province.

Footage emerging from Zahedan showed people carrying dead and wounded protesters amid heavy gunfire. The provincial administration said 19 people have died in the clashes. Local news agency Haal-e Vash reported the number of deaths to be at least 36, with dozens of others wounded.  

The internet has been blocked and mobile networks largely shut down in the city and surrounding areas since Friday, data from watchdog Netblocks shows, with residents of neighboring towns saying they have been unable to reach their relatives.

Mohammad Zia, a shopkeeper in Taftan, a city on Iran’s border with Pakistan, some 90 km from Zahedan, told Arab News that in some parts of the town weak mobile signals could be caught.

“But the internet services are still suspended in the entire Sistan and Balochistan region,” he said.

Muhammad Asif, who lives in Nokundi, a nearby town on the Pakistani side of the border, said he received disturbing footage from the deadly clashes in Zahedan on Friday and has since been unable to contact his family there.

“I have been constantly trying to contact my cousin who traveled there for business,” he said. “Due to the internet and mobile network blackout I am unable to contact him, which increases my worries.”

The death of the provincial IRGC intelligence chief is a major escalation in the antigovernment demonstrations that began in mid-September, triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iranian morality police.

The country-wide rallies have been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in over a decade.

As of Friday, at least 83 protesters have been killed by security forces, mainly in the provinces of Mazandaran, Gilan, Western Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Alborz, and the capital Tehran, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization.

Thousands of demonstrators and civil activists have been arrested.

The toll is likely to increase with the Sistan and Balochistan casualties.


Pakistan calls Afghan Taliban official’s remarks ‘against spirit of friendly ties’

Updated 01 October 2022

Pakistan calls Afghan Taliban official’s remarks ‘against spirit of friendly ties’

  • Taliban's deputy foreign minister this week called on Pakistan not to 'interfere' in Afghanistan’s internal affairs
  • The comments came in response to concern shared by Pakistan PM at UNGA regarding threat posed by militant groups

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday termed as "against the spirit of friendly relations" the recent remarks by the Taliban's Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Abbas Stanikzai, in which he had called on Pakistan not to “interfere” in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. 

Stanikzai's statement this week referred to the concern shared by Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif regarding the threat posed by militant groups operating from the neighboring country during the latter's address with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 23. 

In response, Pakistan's foreign office on Friday stressed the need for Afghan interim authorities to take necessary steps to address international expectations and concerns.

“This is very unfortunate and unacceptable. We have noted with concern, these recent remarks,” Pakistan foreign office spokesperson, Asim Iftikhar Ahmed, said at a weekly press briefing. 

"We consider such statements as against the spirit of friendly relations between our two brotherly countries"." 

Stanikzai had said that they condemned the Pakistan prime minister’s statement and that no one had the right to "interfere" in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. 

“Obviously there is no interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. To the contrary, our Afghan friends are well aware of Pakistan’s support and advocacy for Afghanistan, for the international community to engage positively and constructively with Afghanistan, given the serious challenges, the economic situation and the humanitarian situation that is faced by the Afghan people,” Ahmed said. 

“I think it is very clear that it is in the interest of the people of Afghanistan that Pakistan has been advocating constructive international engagement. We have played our role in this regard.” 

In his UNGA address, PM Sharif had said that Pakistan shared the key concern of the international community regarding the threat posed by "major terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan, especially ISIL-K and TTP as well as Al-Qaida, ETIM and IMU."  

“They all need to be dealt with comprehensively, with the support and cooperation of the Interim Afghan authorities. In turn, the international community should address Afghanistan’s dire humanitarian needs,” he had said. 

Also on Friday, Pakistan condemned a “terrorist attack” on an educational institute in the Afghan capital of Kabul, which killed at least 19 people. 

"The government and people of Pakistan extend their profound and heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and pray for early recovery of the injured," Islamabad said in a statement. 

"We stand in complete solidarity with our Afghan brethren in the fight against the scourge of terrorism." 


Pakistan committed to further deepen its relations with UAE – PM Sharif 

Updated 01 October 2022

Pakistan committed to further deepen its relations with UAE – PM Sharif 

  • UAE is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in Middle East and home to more than 1.6 million Pakistanis 
  • PM Shehbaz Sharif expresses gratitude for relief assistance provided by the UAE to the flood-hit people 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday said his country wished to further deepen its ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as he met Emirati Ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi, according to PM Sharif’s office. 

Pakistan and the UAE have close fraternal relations and bilateral cooperation in a range of fields. The UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and home to more than 1.6 million Pakistani nationals. 

In his meeting with Ambassador Al-Zaabi, the Pakistan premier reaffirmed the importance Islamabad attached to its relations with the UAE. 

“Pakistan was committed to further deepen its relations with the United Arab Emirates in all areas of common interest,” PM Sharif said. 

“Pakistan and the UAE enjoy close fraternal ties for five decades that are rooted firmly in common belief and shared values and culture.” 

The prime minister also expressed gratitude for the relief assistance provided by the UAE and for establishing an air corridor to provide humanitarian assistance to the flood-hit people in Pakistan. 

The UAE started operating an air bridge to transport humanitarian aid on August 28 and has since dispatched more than 40 relief flights to support Pakistan, where floods have killed more than 1,600 people and affected 33 million others. 

The relief aid includes shelters, food and medicines for people affected by unprecedented rains and floods in the South Asian country since mid-June.