Pakistan’s Ambassador To Russia Sent Some Positive Signals About Bilateral Relations
Reviewing everything that Ambassador Khan revealed in his latest interview with TASS, it’s clear that the political will still exists to expand economic linkages with Russia, but the sanctions imposed upon his country’s new partner by its other ones in the US-led West’s Golden Billion are obviously a major impediment.
Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Shafqat Ali Khan gave an interview to TASS earlier in the week where he sent some very positive signals about bilateral relations. It’s in Russian and can be read here, but those who don’t speak the language can easily use Google Translate to understand what he said. The present piece will summarize the substance of his interview, after which some concluding thoughts will be shared about the future of Pakistani-Russian relations.
Ambassador Khan opened up by reaffirming his country’s commitment to the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP), which he described as a strategic project. According to him, however, there are still some procedural, legal, and financial issues to overcome, though he clarified that they aren’t crucial. His Excellency also reminded his interlocutor that the latest meeting between both countries’ leaders at the SCO Summit in Samarkand saw them reaffirm their political will to the PSGP.
Western sanctions are of course an issue, he said, but he also added that Pakistan is trying to find ways to continue mutually beneficial interaction with Russia in this new environment. The next intergovernmental commission will be held in Islamabad on 18 January, during which time Ambassador Khan expects there to be further clarity about the PSGP. It’s possible that it could even begin construction sometime in 2023, but that’s only in the best-case scenario.
On a related subject, TASS asked him about how exactly he expects trade to be conducted in the new environment of Western sanctions. His Excellency revealed that Pakistan asked for clarification from Russia about how it deals with other countries since his own admittedly doesn’t have any experience in making payments in national currencies. It engages in significant barter with neighbouring Iran, but everything else is mostly settled in dollars or euros, he said.
The interviewer alluded to his disclosure in early June during the Valdai Club’s first-ever conference on Russian-Pakistani relations where he revealed that some businessmen were already using a currency swap with China to facilitate bilateral trade to follow up on that development. The reader should be made aware though that this was recently contradicted by President of the Trade House of Pakistan Association Zahid Ali Khan last month when he said that trade in roubles and yuan had yet to be finalized.
It’s unclear whether Ambassador Khan was aware of this minor scandal, but he in any case seemed to walk back what he’d earlier disclosed when he was asked about the possibility of trading in yuan. According to him, it’s now only something that he wants to discuss, and he made no reference to his prior disclosure of that currency supposedly already being used by some businessmen. In his view, “experience and time are needed” to complement political will on this possibility.
Moving along a related tangent, His Excellency also said that Pakistan is open to the use of Russia’s Mir payment system, but mentioned that this can only be discussed “after we resolve issues related to currency conversion and trade.” On a positive note, however, he said that he was announcing for the first time that “a significant volume of trade is now carried out through the territory of Afghanistan.” The North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) via Iran is also a route that Pakistan is exploring too.
Furthermore, Ambassador Khan said that Pakistan is in discussions to buy more wheat from Russia, which his country views as a “long-term, stable food supply partner.” This represents a reversal from early August when the Finance Ministry issued a statement that the Economic Coordination Committee rejected the rate at which Russia offered to supply wheat after Moscow declined to drop the price a second time upon Islamabad’s request.
This volte face is likely attributable to the disastrous flood that followed and thus immensely impacted Pakistan’s food security. That South Asian state rightly realized that clinching commodity deals with Russia is the wisest policy choice since Moscow is a reliable supplier of everything that it agrees to provide. Ambassador Khan seemed to imply exactly this pragmatic mindset when telling his interlocutor that Pakistan is also exploring LNG imports from Russia, though no deal has yet been reached.
On that topic, His Excellency added that his country is open to exploring the possibility of Iran supplying Pakistan with energy via a swap deal that it might soon reach with Russia. Reviewing everything that Ambassador Khan revealed in his interview, it’s clear that the political will still exists to expand economic linkages with Russia, but the sanctions imposed upon his country’s new partner by its other ones in the US-led West’s Golden Billion are obviously a major impediment.
This could explain the lacklustre progress that’s been made on these previously agreed plans, all of which is exacerbated by Pakistan’s post-modern coup regime being largely beholden to its US patrons. To its credit, however, it retains its pragmatic policy of principled neutrality towards the Ukrainian Conflict and still continues to trade with Russia like Ambassador Khan discussed. Nevertheless, everything has essentially remained frozen at its February level since that same regime is reluctant to provoke the US.
In the event that it ever becomes brave enough to stop unilaterally conceding on its objective national interests, such as if former Prime Minister Imran Khan returns to office in the scenario of free and fair elections being held as soon as possible like his millions of supporters have peacefully demanded, then Afghanistan and Iran will play crucial roles in the Russian direction of Pakistan’s new geo-economic grand strategy.
Looking forward, it’s premature to predict when that’ll happen. On the one hand, Pakistan is pragmatically declining to openly take the US’ side against Russia despite immense American pressure to do so, while on the other, it’s also tacitly complying with its foreign patron’s demands by essentially freezing its level of cooperation with Russia at its February level. Islamabad will thus need to either receive Washington’s permission or defy its sanctions in order to continue building ties with Moscow.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Voice of East.