Asad Rafiq Karachi Pakistan
India Isloated in Region
After being "dropped" from a key rail project in southeastern Iran along the border with Afghanistan, India is also set to lose an ambitious gas field project in the country that had been in the pipeline for past 10 years.
India's Ministry of External Affairs in a statement on Thursday said Tehran would develop the Farzad-B gas field in the Persian Gulf region "on its own" and might engage India "appropriately at a later stage".
Last week, Masoud Karbasian, managing director of National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), told reporters that a new operator had been roped in to develop the gas field, replacing India's ONGC.
The field, estimated to possess 21.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, 12.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 212 million barrels of gas condensates, was discovered in 2008 by a consortium of three Indian companies — ONGC, Oil India Limited and Indian Oil Corporation.
According to the deal, the Indian side was supposed to develop the field but they abruptly stopped work in 2012, following the intensification of sanctions against Iran.
After sanctions were eased in 2015 following the signing of a nuclear deal between Iran and Western countries, India showed its willingness to return to the project.
However, things again fell apart amid the reinstatement of US sanctions on Iran in May 2018, which further "discouraged" India from making headway in the project, said sources familiar with the issue who requested not to be named.
"By May 2018, the two sides had made tremendous progress and agreed on key details of the project," the sources said. "However, the US sanctions played the spoilsport."
The two sides had disagreements among themselves as well, particularly on the number of pipelines to be laid and financial investment in the development plan, according to reports.
In May 2019, Iran's oil minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, said his ministry had devised a plan to finance the development of the Farzad-B gas field.
The NIOC had asked the Indian side to submit a financial plan for the field's development. However, Tehran was "not impressed" with the plan and asked for a new one, said the sources. India had reportedly made a $5.5 billion investment plan
In August 2019, after slow progress by the Indian side to submit a new plan, Karbasian said Iran would proceed with another operator for the project.
India's External Affairs Ministry, however, said the "follow-up bilateral cooperation" was impacted by "policy changes on the Iranian side".
India's loss of the project marks a "big setback" for relations between the two countries, Tehran-based analysts, who asked to remain anonymous, told Anadolu Agency, as the Farzad-B gas field and Chabahar port were the two largest bilateral accomplishments between the two sides.
Earlier reports claimed that Iran had "dropped" India from a rail project after the Indian side showed reluctance to start work due to US sanctions.
Read: Iran drops India from key Chabahar project
The memorandum of understanding to construct the 628-kilometre railway line from the port city of Chabahar to Zahedan was first discussed between the two sides in May 2016.
It came on the sidelines of the signing of a trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan to develop a transport and trade corridor from India to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port in southeast Iran. The port has been operational since 2016 and has been exempted from US sanctions.
India's External Affairs Ministry dismissed the reports that Iran excluded it from the rail project as "speculative," saying Tehran was to "nominate an authorised entity to finalise outstanding technical and financial issues". The matter, it said, was "still awaited".
"IRCON was appointed by Government of India to assess the feasibility of the project. It was working with CDTIC, an Iranian company under their Ministry of Railways in that regard. IRCON has completed the site inspection and review of the feasibility report," the ministry said in a statement on Thursday, referring to the state-run Indian infrastructure firm undertaking the project.
"Detailed discussions were thereafter held on other relevant aspects of the project, which had to take into account the financial challenges that Iran was facing. In December 2019, these issues were reviewed in detail at the 19th India-Iran Joint Commission Meeting in Tehran."
Read: US sanctions, coronavirus make for Iran's toughest year, says Rouhani
An official from Iran's Ports and Maritime Organisation has also denied the reports. However, he said Iran "has not inked any deal with India" for the construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan railroad.
"Iran has only signed two agreements with Indians for investment in Chabahar: One is related to the port's machinery and equipment, and the second is related to India's investment to the tune of $150m," Farhad Montaser told state news agency IRNA on Wednesday.
According to the 2016 MoU between India's IRCON and Iran’s CDTIC, IRCON was to "provide requisite services for the construction of Chabahar-Zahedan railway line which forms part of transit and transportation corridor in trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan".
Services to be provided by IRCON, as part of the MoU, included all "superstructure work and financing the project", estimated to be around $1.6 billion.
However, the two sides failed to reach an agreement, sources said. Last week, Iran went ahead with a track-laying ceremony for the rail line, which will eventually stretch to Zaranj on the Afghan side.
A step Forward to Bright Future of Pakistan CPEC
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be a ‘game changer’ for the motherland, bringing unprecedented prosperity and progress to the country.
“It (CPEC) is a project that will take Pakistan to new heights [of prosperity],” the prime minister said after witnessing the signing of agreement with China Gezhouba for Azad Pattan hydropower project at a ceremony held at PM Office on Monday.
“Pakistan can learn with the progress made by emerging economic power, China, during the last 30 years,” Mr Khan said. He said he was glad that the hydropower project was being commissioned under the CPEC. “Earlier, the CPEC was confined to road connectivity, but now other aspects of the corridor are being unfolded,” he added.
A part of CPEC, with an investment of $1.5 billion, 700.7-megawatt Azad Pattan will not involve fuel import, thus enabling the country to move towards cheaper and greener power while generating local job opportunities.
The project is located at River Jhelum and is expected to be completed in 2026.
“Time would prove the long-term benefits of CPEC, which is based on the economic cooperation between Pakistan and China,” the prime minister said, adding that Pakistan could learn a lot from the emerging world economic power, China. He expressed the optimism that the two countries would continue to benefit from the time-tested cooperation in diverse fields.
Referring to the signing of the agreement for Azad Pattan hydropower project, PM Khan said it was part of the investment to complete the power project based on clean energy. “Unlike the past, the project will not burden the people. The previous governments launched costly projects, which were made functional with imported fuel, thus increasing the cost of energy manifolds and stressing the local currency,” he added.
Mr Khan said that power projects based on imported fuel cost the country dearly, with the result that the industry could not compete with those in the neighbouring countries which were using low-cost energy. “This also caused burden on domestic consumers,” he added.
The prime minister said the hydropower generation was considered as a major source of clean energy, which was also in line with his government’s policy of ‘Clean and Green Pakistan’ and regarded as environment friendly. “It will also diminish the impacts of the global warming,” he added.
Mr Khan appreciated the energy ministry, CPEC Authority, the governments of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab for the agreement regarding the power project.
Speaking on the occasion, CPEC Authority Chairman retired Lt-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa said the project would be completed by utilising the indigenous resources. “Work on CPEC projects continued with full force despite Covid-19 pandemic, generating job opportunities,” he added.
He said during the last 10 days, they had signed agreements for bringing in $4 billion investment and for generation of 1,800MW low-cost power. The projects would also provide jobs to about 8,000 locals, he added.
Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing, Chinese company authorities, ministers and senior officials also witnessed the signing of the agreement.
India Spoiling Afghan Peace Process To Damage Pakistan Concerns
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday warned about ‘spoilers’ trying to undermine the peace process in Afghanistan as efforts for kick-starting the long-elusive intra-Afghan dialogue continue.
“Afghan peace process has entered a critical phase. We, therefore, need to remain alert to the elements, who are attempting to sabotage the progress,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.
Mr Khalilzad, accompanied by his delegation, reached here from Tashkent (Uzbekistan), as part of his three-nation trip that will also include Doha (Qatar). In Tashkent, the special envoy met foreign ministers from five Central Asian States — Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyz Republic — under the C5+1 dialogue format to urge them support the Afghan peace efforts.
Mr Qureshi, while reaffirming Pakistan’s continued support for peace efforts, said: “Pakistan remains committed to working with international and regional stakeholders for sustainable, peaceful, and political resolution of the Afghan dispute.”
The foreign minister welcomed the readiness of both Afghan government and the Taliban for participation in the intra-Afghan dialogue and announcement of their negotiation teams. He said the dialogue would pave the way for lasting peace in the war-ravaged country that has been in conflict for decades.
Qureshi in meeting with Khalilzad urges ‘all sides’ to reduce violence
The Afghan government and the Taliban have also agreed on Doha as the venue for their talks. However, the delay in the release of prisoners has been holding up the start of the negotiations, which were originally scheduled to commence on March 10 following the signing of Doha Accord between the US and the insurgent group.
Afghan authorities, as per the agreement, were to release 5,000 insurgency fighters, while the Taliban were to set free 1,000 Afghan forces men in their custody. Kabul claims to have released 4,000 Taliban and the Taliban say they have freed about 700 government soldiers. There are, however, differences between the two sides over the numbers.
Head of Taliban Political Office Mullah Baradar, in a video conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday night, said the delay in the start of negotiations was because of slow process of releasing the detainees, and the establishment of security points by government security forces.
Another sticking point is the heightened violence. The Taliban say their fighters conducted ‘operations’ against Afghan forces trespassing the areas held by them, otherwise they have abided by the understating on lowering violence by not attacking major cities and military installations.
Mr Qureshi expressed the hope that release of prisoners would be completed soon. He further urged “all sides” to reduce violence.
There have been questions about high-profile assassinations and attacks in and around Kabul, including the June 23 killing of Afghan prosecutors and government employees, and the bombing of a vehicle carrying human rights activist Fatima Khalil on June 27.
These attacks have not been claimed by any group. Amb Khalilzad had after the killing of the prosecutors tweeted: “This attack underscores what we all know: Spoilers (both domestic and foreign) are trying to disrupt and delay.”
Mr Qureshi, in his meeting, re-emphasised the need for being alert to the sinister designs of the ‘spoilers’.
Mr Khalilzad is being accompanied on this trip by Chief Executive Office of US International Development Finance Corporation (USDFC) Adam Boehler. He is pushing Trump administration’s plans for increased regional connectivity, trade and development.
The USDFC was set up in 2018 for American investments in development projects in low- and middle-income countries around the world. Many suspect it to have been set up for countering China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its flagship project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Nothing was said in the Foreign Office’s media statement about what is being offered by the USDFC.
Death of Elephants in Bostwana
Hundreds of elephants have died mysteriously in Botswana's famed Okavango Delta, the head of the wildlife department said on Thursday, ruling out poaching as the tusks were found intact.
The landlocked southern African country has the world's largest elephant population, estimated to be around 130,000.
“We have had a report of 356 dead elephants in the area north of the Okavango Delta and we have confirmed 275 so far,” Cyril Taolo, the acting director of the department of Wildlife and National Parks, told AFP in a text message.
He said the cause of the deaths was yet to be established with anthrax having been ruled out.
“We do not suspect poaching since (the) animals were found with tusks,” he said.
Samples have been collected and sent to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Canada for testing.
Similar deaths were first reported in May when authorities found 12 carcasses in just a week in two villages in the northwest of the country.
The latest discoveries were flagged by a wildlife conservation charity, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), whose confidential report referring to the 356 dead elephants, was leaked to the media on Wednesday.
EWB suspects the elephants have been dying in the area for about three months.
According to the report dated June 19, 2020, “70 per cent of elephant carcasses were considered recent, having died about a month ago, and 30 per cent of the carcasses appeared fresh, ranging from one day to two weeks old”.
“There was good evidence to show elephants of all ages and sex appear to be dying,” said the report penned by EWB director Mike Chase.
Several live elephants appeared to have been weak, lethargic and emaciated, with some showing signs of disorientation, difficulty in walking or limping, EWB said.
“One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members,” said the report.
The military's media wing on Thursday termed reports by the Indian media that Pakistan had deployed troops along the Line of Control in Gilgit Baltistan region as "false and irresponsible".
Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, via Twitter, said there was no truth to Chinese troops using the Skardu Airbase, saying that the reports were "false, irresponsible and far from truth".
"No such movement or induction of additional forces has taken place. We also vehemently deny presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan," he added.
Indian media outlets have claimed that Pakistan has deployed "almost 20,000 additional soldiers" along the LoC in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and GB "to match Chinese deployments on the LAC (Line of Actual Control) in the east".
"The level of troops Pakistan has deployed is more than what it did after the Balakot air strikes. Pakistani radars are believed to be fully activated all along the region too," a report by Economic Times said.
Furthermore, the publication claimed that meetings have been held between China and Pakistan officials and the former is also holding talks with the Al-Badr outfit in order to "incite violence" in occupied Kashmir.
The reports come after Prime Minister Imran Khan said on the floor of the parliament on Tuesday that Pakistan had "no doubt" that India was involved in the attempted attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi that took place earlier this week.
India is currently engaged in a conflict with China at the disputed LAC in the Galwan Valey of the Ladakh region. Last month, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent clash between the two armies, the deadliest in decades.
Pakistan has repeatedly expressed its concern that India may initiate a "false flag operation" to divert attention from its casualties in the conflict with China.
Both India and China have accused each other of instigating the clash between their forces in the valley.