Himal: How did a general get into lobbying for natural gas pipelines?
Mahmud Durrani: Shirin Tahir-Kheii Is really the mother hen of all this. I was still in service when I told her of wanting to retire and devote my life to promoting India-Pakistan peace. Within two years, she and her brother Toufiq had organised a group of Pakistanis and Indians to discuss energy cooperation. I attended the first meeting with the backing of the Pakistan military and the government. There was a feeling that we needed peace. There was even an ex-RAW chief in our group.
Do you feel vindicated?
Now that the pipeline project seems within grasp, the members of the Balusa Group feel redeemed. What we had thought of as close to a dream is now close to reality. The idea is do-able, it is economically feasible, and we are excited.
Were you always convinced about the project’s feasibility?
In seeking to learn all there was to learn about natural gas pipelines, I met with a representative of Reliance Industries at the Indian International Centre in New Delhi. They were already into gas, and felt that the pipeline would work. This added to my confidence.
Were you not wary of meeting up with big businesses such as Reliance?
I got over that kind of timidity long ago. One must respect the private sector as a partner, and I had no problem meeting with the Reliance people. For a peacenik, industry can be a very strong partner.
Are there those in Pakistan who will reject the project?
Only the narrow-minded extremists. The project will move ahead on its own merits sooner than later, and the gas will help develop stakeholders across the border.
Are we expecting too much from one pipeline?
The pipeline is not a magic wand that will resolve all problems at one wave, but please understand that exporting gas is completely different from exporting sugar or potatoes. Simply put, a gas pipeline cannot be shut off, therefore it can provide more stability than other kinds of cross-border exchange.
Are you worried about the troubles in Balochistan affecting the pipeline?
There is disaffection in Balochistan, but this does not provide the motivation to blow up a transit pipeline from Iran. Nevertheless, adequate security arrangements will have to be there. A lifeline for Indian industry cannot be made
Are you sure it will happen?
I think the pipeline will happen, not as a romantic but as a realist. India needs the gas and Pakistan needs the gas. They have in the broader sense agreed to cooperate on this. The issue is fundamentally settled.
Mahmud Durrani, retired Major General of the Pakistan Army, was interviewed in his home by the 18-hole Raw lpindi Golf Course.