May 29, 2023

Banking on Russia for agriculture, gas

Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an attack on Ukraine. The obvious question: was it intentional or planned for months? Also, how it will affect Pakistan, its relations with regional countries, and most importantly, what does the United States think?

US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “We’ve communicated to Pakistan our position regarding Russia’s further renewed invasion of Ukraine, and we have briefed them on our efforts to pursue diplomacy over war.” 

Not surprisingly, Washington doesn’t appear happy with Islamabad over the visit. But it is pertinent to mention that the relations between two countries have been in “cold storage” for a while, especially since the US’s rushed departure from Afghanistan. 

Even US President Joe Biden hasn’t called PM Khan after holding office and as Khan said: “He is a busy person” and that Khan was not waiting for a call from him. 

Keeping all that in mind, the spotlight comes over Khan’s visit to Russia. Putin had invited the premier during their meeting in Beijing during Winter Olympics. 

For Pakistan, the visit is important for couple of very crucial reasons: a) gas pipeline b) South Asian dynamics after US departure. 

In just the past winters, Pakistan faced acute shortage of gas and it almost turned into a crisis. Now, Pakistan and Russia have signed a billion-dollar gas pipeline under which Islamabad will get gas from Moscow. 

Along with the gas, Pakistan is planning to import wheat from Russia as the price of flour – with other daily commodities – is continuously rising. Even Khan mentioned these aspects, while talking about his visit to Moscow.  

“We went there because we have to import 2 million tons of wheat from Russia. Secondly, we have signed agreements with them to import natural gas because Pakistan’s own gas reserves are depleting,” Khan said.

Now coming to the regional situation. Pakistan was the one that helped the US defeat Soviet Union in Afghanistan which led to its disintegration in 1991. And since then, the relations between two countries have remained sour. But now the situation has reversed as the US has left in disarray from Kabul after spending $20 trillion and two decades in futile war against terrorism. 

Although Pakistan played a huge role in finalizing a deal between Taliban and Washington, still the Biden administration ditched Islamabad, just like Washington did in 1991. Therefore, new allies are the need of time for Pakistan.

Pakistan enjoys very strong relations with China, Taliban are tilted towards us compared to India, and Islamabad has promising ties with Central Asian States. The Uzbek president’s visit is one example. 

Experts underline good relations with Russia will largely be in Pakistan’s favor. They insist it may lead to a regional bloc, which will also be good for Pakistan-China’s CPEC or One-Belt-One Road (OBOR) mega project. And it seems Islamabad is thinking along the same lines too, as Pakistan abstained from the UNGA vote on Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine. 

It might also help Pakistan address its gas and agricultural shortcomings.

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