20.09.2022 Author: Vladimir Danilov

Pakistan’s Relations with Russia are Progressing Well

VAL

Historically, relations between Moscow and Islamabad have been rather complicated. After declaring independence from British India, Pakistan made a geopolitical choice in its early decades, opting for close military-political and economic ties with the US, which largely predetermined the cool relations between the former and the Soviet Union. There were particularly difficult periods in bilateral relations in the early 1960s, when an American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft flying from Pakistani territory was shot down over Sverdlovsk, and during the years of Soviet presence in Afghanistan, when Pakistan was a training ground for anti-Soviet forces. However, even during the Cold War there was constructive cooperation between the two countries.

Since Islamabad joined the international anti-terrorist coalition in the 2000s, Russian-Pakistani relations have intensified, especially in the political sphere.

Pakistan’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a full member in June 2017 has given added impetus to Russia-Pakistan bilateral relations.

Today, Pakistan is an important foreign policy partner of Russia, and there is an intense political dialogue between the countries, including at a high level. Developing ties with Islamabad is a very good thing, especially as Pakistan is emerging as an important link in China’s New Silk Road, which is supposed to partially run through Pakistani territory. Today, Pakistan is also an important link in the global security system, especially after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Islamabad’s increased role in maintaining stability in the region.

The relationship between Moscow and Islamabad today can be divided into several promising areas, among which the military-political, trade and economic cooperation and humanitarian interaction are the key ones. The signing in 2014 of a cooperation agreement between the Ministries of Defense of the two states was an important event in the development of military-political ties between Moscow and Islamabad.

Russia’s trade with Pakistan was nearly $697 million in 2021: Russian exports were $343.5 million and imports were $353.5 million. Russian exports largely consist of foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials (61.29%). No less important components of Russian exports to Pakistan are also metals and metal products (15.46%), mineral products (8.52%), chemical products (5.77%), timber and pulp and paper products (5.17%) and machinery, equipment and transport vehicles (3.57%).

One of the most promising areas of bilateral business partnership is the energy sector. And in this regard, the construction of the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore in northern Pakistan is a flagship project, as per the intergovernmental agreement signed in 2015. The pipeline, originally called the North-South pipeline, is over 1,100 kilometers long (with an annual capacity of up to 12.4 billion cubic meters and a project cost of $2-2.5 billion) and will link the LNG receiving infrastructure at the Karachi and Gwadar ports in the south of Pakistan with power plants and industrial gas consumers in Kasur district (Punjab) in the north. With the construction of the said pipeline, Russian companies will help Pakistan strengthen its own energy security and increase the use of natural gas as a clean energy source. The Pakistan Stream pipeline involves the construction of an LNG receiving terminal, which will draw in other suppliers, especially Qatar, which dominates the region. This will consequently reduce competition from Russian companies with Qatari companies in the European and Asian LNG markets and with Russia’s Power of Siberia pipeline in the Chinese market.

A detailed discussion on the prospects of energy cooperation took place on September 15 at a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Samarkand, during which it was stressed that Pakistan is one of Russia’s priority partners in Asia. “I would like to point out that we consider Pakistan as one of our priority partners both in Southeast Asia and Asia as a whole. The relations between our countries are developing in an absolutely positive way, and we are very pleased,” the Russian President said. Regarding energy cooperation, the Russian leader pointed to the possibility of supplying pipeline gas from Russia to Pakistan, especially as some of the infrastructure is already in place in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Putin said there is still the issue of stability in Afghanistan, which the two countries now need to work on. “Of course, there are problems related to political stability, but in view of our mutually good relations with the Afghan people, I hope that this problem can also be solved: I am referring to Pakistan’s influence on the situation in this country,” Putin added.

At present there is no gas pipeline between Russia and Pakistan, and the idea is still under discussion. To supply gas from Russia to Pakistan, two options can be objectively considered.  The first one is the extension of the Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan gas pipeline all the way to Pakistan and possibly India. However, due to the fact that the project covers many countries, it will not be easy to agree, especially in view of the unstable political situation in Afghanistan. But alternatives could also be considered, in particular by creating a gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea to Iran.

With the collective West pummeling Russia with one package of sanctions after another, Moscow is justified in turning its gaze to the East and South. And in this current difficult geopolitical situation, developing relations with major regional powers such as Pakistan takes on particular significance. Pakistan House Director General Muhammad Athar Javed said during the first Russian-Pakistani expert dialogue on “Russia-Pakistan Strategic Relations” at the Valdai Club in Moscow in June that Pakistan has a negative attitude towards anti-Russian sanctions. This is because Pakistan supports only those sanctions that are imposed by the UN Security Council. Pakistan by no means supports unilateral sanctions imposed by the US and its allies. This position of Islamabad stems from its own painful experiences as it itself has been repeatedly targeted by Western sanctions for no good reason. As such, Pakistan can relate to Russia’s current situation and is building a frank and honest relationship with Moscow.

Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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