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Friday July 19, 2024

National interest to guide decisions on energy needs: FO

Explaining trade with Iran, the spokeswoman mentioned that there was a Preferential Trade Agreement between Pakistan and Iran

By Mariana Baabar
April 27, 2024
Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch is addressing her weekly press briefing in Islamabad on April 26, 2024. —Screengrab/ X/@ForeignOfficePk
Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch is addressing her weekly press briefing in Islamabad on April 26, 2024. —Screengrab/ X/@ForeignOfficePk

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan once again Friday reiterated that it had great energy needs to drive its economy and hence its national interest will guide its decisions in this regard.

“We have noted some statements made by the United States (regarding imposing sanctions on Pakistan). We will take into account the international environment, taking into account the UN sanctions, if any, and issues related to trade with other countries, including in the energy domain,” said the Foreign Office spokeswoman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch when asked about progress in the Pakistan-Iran Gas Pipeline Project and whether the country was still keen to go ahead with it.

Speaking at the weekly media briefing at the Foreign Office, Baloch said the issue of pipeline project was raised during the recent visit of the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and it was reflected in the joint statement. “Pakistan and Iran believe that the two countries should enhance cooperation in the energy domain. Pakistan has significant energy needs and we have been exploring various options to expand our energy imports. In this context, Pakistan and Iran have reiterated the importance of cooperation in the energy domain, including trade in electricity, power transmission lines and the IP gas pipeline project,” she said.

With regard to the Pakistan-Iran Free Trade Agreement, the two countries have a Preferential Trade Agreement and have been engaged in discussions on the Free Trade Agreement. “There are various aspects that are still under discussion and at this point we are not in a position to announce its contours since the FTA is still under negotiation,” she added.

To queries about balancing bilateral relations with the United States and Iran who are bitter foes, the spokeswoman said it should be underlined that Pakistan did not believe in zero-sum relationships. “Expansion of our relations with one country should not be considered as coming at the expense of our relationship with another. Pakistan is confident that its relationship with its friends and partners, including the United States, are robust enough to move forward on their own merit, and notwithstanding any other relationships that Pakistan has with other countries in our national interest. Pakistan has trade relations with its neighbour Iran,” she explained.

Explaining trade with Iran, the spokeswoman mentioned that there was a Preferential Trade Agreement between Pakistan and Iran. “The border regions of Pakistan and Iran benefit from the local trade and this trade takes place mostly in the barter form. You would recall, there are border markets, these are sustenance markets to help the local traders. This basically helps the economy of poor regions along the border of Pakistan and Iran,” she said.

Acknowledging statements from the United States regarding Pakistan’s trade with Iran, the spokeswoman explained that Pakistan and the United States had a robust dialogue and several channels of communication and Pakistan would continue to engage with them and explain the importance that Pakistan accords to its relations with its neighbours and the need for this cooperation so as to have the Pakistan-Iran border as a border of peace, security and prosperity.

To a query about businessmen in Karachi suggesting to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to open up trade with India and whether any businessman was given this responsibility, she responded, “We have no information that any private individual being given such a responsibility. Second, there are no back-channel talks taking place with regard to the normalization of trade between Pakistan and India. Third, whenever we receive any proposals or requests from various segments of the society, including our business community, we do examine them and this a normal practice in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And at this stage, I do not have any information to share with you about a change in Pakistan’s position or its policy towards trade with India”.

With regard to the heated rhetoric from India as it enters elections, the spokeswoman said it was regrettable that vilification of Muslims had become a norm in today’s India. “We are gravely concerned that verbal and physical attacks against Muslims have witnessed a significant increase in recent years. We are also deeply concerned that the Muslims in India are being systematically stigmatized and marginalized,” she said. She said the international community must ensure that the Indian Muslims were not victimized for having different religious beliefs than the majority population. “The efforts to promote anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia especially for electoral gains must end,” she added.