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India's energy diplomacy with Pakistan has received a setback in the wake of escalating border tensions between the long-feuding neighbours.A high-level Pakistani delegation expected to visit India last month to work out the modalities of electricity trade between the two countries skipped the proposed meeting. This comes in the backdrop of India trying to leverage its expertise in helping energy-starved Pakistan.
"A team from Pakistan was supposed to come last month but they chickened out, given the escalation of tensions on the border," a government official said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
Border tensions have heightened this year with Indian and Pakistani soldiers being killed in apparent tit-for-tat attacks along the line of control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, where a ceasefire between India and Pakistan has largely been respected by both sides since it was put in place in November 2003.
A second government official confirmed the development. A team from India's power ministry had travelled to Pakistan to take this specific engagement forward, this official said on condition of anonymity.
The idea is to establish 220 kilovolt (KV) links with Pakistan to supply 500MW of electricity and gradually increasing it to 2,000MW.
According to earlier discussions between India and Pakistan, a grid was planned in two steps. The first involved setting up 220kV inter-connections between Pakistan and India's northern grid for a power exchange of around 500MW. In the second stage, high-voltage direct current links were planned to transfer 2000MW. India has a power generation capacity of 225,793.10 MW.
Questions emailed to India's foreign ministry and the Pakistan high commission on Tuesday remained unanswered as of press time on Wednesday.
"The discussions are still at a technical stage and issues concerning export of gas and power on a commercial basis are to be further discussed," said another government official familiar with the development. "We have so far had only one meeting on 10-11 June 2013, when government officials from ministry of power and petroleum and natural gas visited Pakistan at a short notice, responding to the interest of the new government on cooperating with India to combat power and gas shortages."
"Pakistan preferred to defer the scheduled visit of technical delegation and fresh dates from Pakistan side are awaited," the official added.
This electricity link would have aided in forming an inter-connected electricity grid to interlink countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) that groups India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Maldives. India already has power-grid links with Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It also plans to develop power transmission links with Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Trade is being seen as the driver of recent efforts to strive for better relations between the neighbours.
"Pakistan's electricity woes to some extent can be addressed by implementing the earlier Indian offer of selling 500 MW of electricity to Pakistan. Given (Pakistan prime minister) Nawaz Sharif's image as a pro-trade, pro-investment person, he can be expected to step up Indo-Pak economic and commercial ties," Arvind Gupta, director general at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and Smruti S. Pattanaik, research fellow IDSA, wrote in a 16 May paper.
The other proposal in the works include selling five million metric standard cubic metre a day of liquified natural gas (LNG) by state-owned GAIL (India) Ltd.The proposal was confirmed by a GAIL executive who declined to be named.
India's ties with its neighbours have been fraying, and efforts to step up energy diplomacy with Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka haven't made sufficient headway, with China becoming increasingly influential by wielding its considerable economic might.
India and Pakistan have fought three of their four wars over Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety but administer in parts. Both sides have not been able to resolve the dispute despite numerous rounds of talks.
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