The successful visit to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India
by Iranian President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad points to a
greater, more assertive role by Iran in regional and global
arenas. The growing ties between Iran and South Asia also
indicate a general trend where more developing countries share
their wealth and resources for development, instead of depending
on Western aid. Such South-South cooperation is vital in the age
One cannot underestimate Iran's increasingly visible profile
on the global stage vis-a-vis the energy issue. Iran has the
second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and
it is a key supplier of oil and natural gas to the rest of the
world. It is in this context that we should appraise Iran's
spearheading of the US$ 7.5 billion Iran-India-Pakistan natural
gas pipeline and two energy projects in Sri Lanka costing around
US$ 1.5 billion.
The former will be very significant for both India and
Pakistan, two of the fastest developing nations in South Asia.
Next to China, India has the second biggest energy consumption
in Asia. Its energy needs will rise exponentially over the
Moreover, the envisaged pipeline has also become a symbol of
closer rapport between India and Pakistan. Indeed, there were
many positive comments about President Ahmadinejad's
behind-the-scenes diplomatic skills which literally cleared the
way for the massive pipeline.
As for Sri Lanka, it already imports 70 per cent of the crude
oil requirement from Iran. Iran's help for the Sapugaskanda
refinery expansion will help Sri Lanka to refine more crude oil,
saving foreign exchange currently spent on importing finished
products such as petrol and diesel. The Uma Oya project will be
a vital lifeline for the people in Uva-Wellassa and the South,
irrigating thousands of acres and as a bonus, adding 100 MW to
the national grid.
Although the power generation capacity is low when compared
with the proposed coal power plants, it will nevertheless help
address the present power needs up to a certain extent. Another
significant aspect is that these projects are being implemented
with local expertise, which will also lead to a substantial
foreign exchange saving. It is well known that many donors
specify that their construction firms be awarded the tender(s)
as a prerequisite for granting aid.
Many Western countries and donor agencies also attach various
conditions to their aid packages, such as human rights. However,
the key donor countries in the South including China and Iran
have perceived the need to keep these issues quite separate from
the development agenda.
They are of the view that such issues should not be tied with
development as that could ultimately negate the very purpose for
which aid is provided. Increased trade and development
cooperation among the developing countries is one way of
reducing or nullifying the Western influence on the world
Although some Western countries publicly cautioned the South
Asian countries not to host the Iranian leader, the fact that
all three countries accorded him the highest possible welcome
indicates their desire to work with Southern partners to achieve
peace and prosperity.
Indeed, Southern hemisphere countries have been assuming a
bigger profile in world fora and through their own groupings
such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77.
Heads of State and Government from South Asian countries will
be meeting in July in Sri Lanka for the annual SAARC (South
Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit, which should
be seen as yet another opportunity to cement their bonds of
While the SAARC Charter generally does not sanction the
discussion of bilateral issues, the SAARC leaders would do well
to ponder on development issues affecting their region including
the prevailing food and energy crises.
One prime example is India's willingness to provide rice to
Sri Lanka in spite of an export ban on non-Basmati rice. The
whole of Asia is being affected by the rice crisis and Asian
countries must necessarily cooperate to overcome it. They should
take the lead in developing higher-yielding rice varieties and
helping each other to modernise paddy cultivation.
Similarly, India will help Sri Lanka to build a power plant
in Sampur and lay a transmission line between the two countries.
This will make it possible for both countries to supply
electricity to each other in times of need. These are fine
instances of South-South cooperation which is emerging as the
best solution for the woes confronting the Third World.