Home Article Imran Khan’s Rendezvous in Kremlin

Imran Khan’s Rendezvous in Kremlin

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Abdul Hadi Mayar

US sanctions over any of Pakistan’s deals with Russian companies cannot be ruled out of possibility despite Imran Khan’s icy relations with Washington
In a video statement released post the last week’s visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would soon visit Islamabad to sign an agreement on the Pakistan Stream North-South gas pipeline project.
He also said that he had discussed with the Pakistani Prime Minister issues pertaining to bilateral cooperation and trade.
Kremlin’s official statement on Imran Khan’s visit was more specific. It stated that the two sides discussed the main aspects of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on current regional topics, including developments in South Asia. Pakistani state media said, “Both sides reviewed the entire array of bilateral relations, including economic and energy cooperation, particularly the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline project.”
The intriguing aspect about the visit–taking place at a time when Pakistan’s foreign policy continues to hang in balance between the United States and the Russia-China duo and Islamabad is in dire need to increase its cooperation with Central Asian and Eurasian countries–was its timing.
Though Khan’s was a pre-planned trip and invitation for it had been extended much earlier, it took place the same day Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian side fully used the occasion to convey to the West that it was not isolated on the issue of Ukraine.
Besides the timing of the visit, the Russian statements and media reports rang alarm bells in the Western camp prompting West-based analysts to observe that after this visit, “Pakistan may have less sympathy in the West.”
One report on Western media even went to the extent of saying that the visit “will further isolate Pakistan.”
However, the Prime Minister’s office in Islamabad appeared to be fully alive to apprehensions. It said, “The Prime Minister stressed that conflict (in Ukraine) was not in any one’s interest.” In an interview with Russian state-controlled television, RT, aired a day before the visit, Imran Khan advised restraint on the Ukraine issue.
Though it was a curtain-raiser interview taking place ahead of his much-trumpeted visit to Moscow and setting the agenda for Russian officials’ interaction with him, Imran Khan did not even touch upon Russia’s position on Ukraine, particularly with regard to the West’s policies, which Moscow describes as intrusive in its “sphere of interest” in Eastern Europe. Answering one question, Khan even very recklessly appreciated the American “diversity” not bothering about the repercussions of such remarks ahead of his visit to the rival camps.
“The America I know is very diverse,” he said adding that “there are sensible voices in the United States.” He even advised that “conflicts and Cold War are not the way.” Do such generalistic rhetoric at a time when his country’s economic meltdown needs concessions from Russia and energy and connectivity cooperation from the Central Asian states, over which Kremlin still enjoys sufficient clout?
To the irony of Pakistan, Khan has also been firing such reckless rockets against the United States – particularly after President Biden refused to make him a phone call – which have caused irreparable depletions in relations between Washington and Islamabad.
In nutshell, the tangible benefit of the Prime Minister’s visit to the Russian Federation was the latter’s commitment to go ahead with the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline project, which in itself is yet in the feasibility stage.
The 1124-kilometre Karachi-Kasur North-South Pakistan Stream pipeline was incepted during the Pakistan People’s Party’s previous government in 2015. Later Nawaz Sharif’s administration inherited this project and worked out a deal with Russia. However, the project did not go into the implementation stage due to US sanctions against Russian companies.
When Imran Khan’s government took power in 2018, it renegotiated the deal and revised the terms of the agreement with Russia in 2021. Under the new deal, 74 per cent of the project’s portfolio is to be owned by Pakistan and 26 per cent by Russian companies.
The initial cost of the pipeline was estimated at $2.25 billion but later it was estimated to cost $3.5. The proposed 56-inch diameter pipeline is contemplated to have the capacity of transporting 12.4 billion cubic metres gas per annum.
The Russian companies are supposed to build the pipeline and operate it for the initial 25 years. Due to Western sanctions, the iconic Russian gas firm, Gazprom, has been excluded from the bidding. Rather, the Eurasian Pipeline Consortium, the steel pipe-maker, TMT and the Operation Services Center of the Russian Energy Ministry are now to lay the pipeline.
While President Putin and his national companies wish to sign a deal on Pakistan Stream, much water has flown in the Indus River at home. US sanctions over any of Pakistan’s deals with Russian companies cannot be ruled out of possibility despite Imran Khan’s icy relations with Washington.
If gas-deficient Pakistan could not implement the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project despite having good-neighbourly and brotherly relations with Iran or if it continues to confront US reservations over Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, how will it be able to overlook Washington’s concerns over the involvement of a Russian company on this project? Apart from US sanctions, critical voices over Pakistan Stream have now emerged even inside Pakistan. Both technical and financial questions are in the air about the viability of pipelining the costly imported re-gasified liquid petroleum gas (RLPG).
Some media reports in Pakistan even suggest that when Pakistani companies, Sui-Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) and Sui-Southern Gas Pipeline Limited (SSGPL), are capable to construct the pipeline–though with a comparatively reduced diameter–at a very lower cost, then what is the need to involve any foreign company?
A recent report even objected to the fact when Pakistan possesses sufficient financial resources in its Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC), then what the need to involve financing from abroad. Another objection is to the construction of such a “luxuriant” pipeline while Pakistan’s internal gas reserves are depleting and gas import from abroad is being reduced. However, even if the pipeline project runs into snags, the energy and cash strapped Pakistan is under dire need to boost bilateral and multilateral cooperation with Russia and the Central Asian states, if it has to keep pace with its arch-rival, India, which, in recent months, has made many inroads in the Central Asian and the Caucasian markets.