Islamabad: On the eve of the groundbreaking of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, the diplomatic community here is abuzz with speculation about which foreign heads of state will attend the ceremony to be held on the Iranian border.
President Asif Ali Zardari and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is hosting the ceremony for the multi-billion dollar project, have reportedly sent invitations to eight heads of state and government.
Neither country has divulged the guest list for the event being held at Gabd Zero point on the Iranian border, the Dawn newspaper reported today.
Diplomatic sources were quoted by the daily as saying that leaders from China, Central Asian states, Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Afghanistan had been invited to the ceremony.
Afghanistan is so far the only country that has declined to attend the ceremony.
President Hamid Karzai`s regrets had more to do with renewed tensions with Pakistan than his US connection, a diplomatic source was quoted as saying.
Karzai "does not have the best of relations with Iran either", the report said.
The confirmations received by the Iranian government till Monday night, according to a Foreign Ministry official, were from Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The first three states would be represented by ministers while the UAE is reportedly sending its Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahayan.
The Central Asian states are yet to respond to the invitation sent earlier this week.
This response to the invitations "is because of the short notice on which they had been sent", a Pakistani diplomat explained.
The diplomat denied that US pressure was making regional leaders stay away from the event and hinted at "surprises" at the ceremony.
Pakistan and Iran invited regional leaders to offset Western opposition to the 2,775 km project because of sanctions on Tehran for its nuclear programme.
The two countries plan to sign a couple of agreements at the ceremony for setting up an oil refinery in Gwadar and opening new border crossings.
The 785-km Pakistani section of the much-delayed pipeline will be built at a cost of USD 1.5 billion.
Iran will provide a loan of USD 500 million to partially finance the construction while Pakistan will pay the remaining cost.
The project is scheduled to be completed in 15 months.
Iran has already completed its section of the pipeline.
Pakistan plans to import 21.5 million cubic metres of gas a day from Iran through the pipeline.