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Pakistan eyes 'peace pipeline' for region

It hopes a deal to ship Iranian gas to India via Pakistan can boost its energy supply, regional ties.

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In a report released this month, The Pakistan Policy Working Group, an independent and bipartisan group of top US experts on Pakistan in Washington, also suggested that the US "reconsider [its] opposition to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project" as a way of easing regional tensions, especially between India and Pakistan.

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The report also points out that the pipeline is tied in with the precarious security situation in Balochistan Province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan.

An armed separatist rebellion has brewed in Pakistan's largest and least populated province for decades, and has intensified since 2006, when the Pakistani Army assassinated the high-profile Balochi leader, Akbar Khan Bugti.

In the latest incident of this low-intensity conflict, over the weekend a Balochi separatist group claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed three people in the Dera Bugti district, home to the country's largest gas reserves.

Iranian-Pakistani trade growing

In the past few months Iran and Pakistan have been warming diplomatically along the border that separates the two countries. In recent months a flurry of agreements have brought the two countries closer as they promise to transform the Balochistan region into an active transport, trade, and energy hub.

Over the summer, Iran and Pakistan signed four agreements that unveiled a new ground transport route and enhanced cooperation in the mining sector in the area rich in minerals.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also announced last week that Pakistan would import 1,000 megawatts of electricity across the border from Iran, as his country suffers from one of the worst energy shortages in its history.

Already the illicit trade of Iranian gas in Balochistan, run by Mr. Abdullah and other merchants dotting the thinly populated southern coast of Pakistan with their makeshift filling stations, attest to the country's demand for energy. It also illustrates the porous nature of Pakistan's 600-mile border with Iran, as well as a history of close relations among the ethnic Balochis who live on either side.

Over the summer Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Islamabad and New Delhi to finalize the pipeline deal at a time when the prospects of India's civil nuclear energy appeared to be dwindling. Disagreements among the three countries over gas pricing and delivery points have also been a stumbling block to negotiations.

Representatives from all three governments had met at venues from Spain to Saudi Arabia to discuss the final details of the plan, including pricing and delivery points.

Despite its recent nuclear deal with the US, India, which imports 70 percent of its required energy, will "need the nuclear deal, the IPI gas pipeline and more," according to Abbas Bilgarami, who works in the local oil and gas industry.

As a result, India might find itself growing closer to the US, Pakistan, and Iran, he says.

"The compulsions imposed on this region," by the US in its security concerns here "will have to be reconsidered," says Mr. Bilgarami. "The regional vision is still very strong."

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