ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and Russia are ready for partnership as the two cold-war rivals get closer – burying the hatchet. This week’s meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Russian President Vladimir Putin sealed the commitment for moving forward together without playing bloc politics. In the past, Pakistan had been a part of the US bloc against the then Soviet Union as the two powers engaged in a marathon cold war. The Soviet Union ultimately collapsed and Russia replaced the former USSR. For several years after the cold war and the collapse of the USSR, Russia struggled for recovery and has now re-emerged as a global power.
As part of the comeback as a global influencer, Russia has remained in contact with Pakistan to forget the bitter past and look forward to the brighter future together. Russia has also been close to China, another powerful country challenging the US supremacy.
This week, Putin mentioned that pipeline gas supplies to Pakistan were possible and part of the infrastructure was already in place. The Sharif-Putin meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, is a continuity of efforts for closer ties between the two countries.
A PM’s House statement reflected the positivity: “The Prime Minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to work closely with Russia to further expand and strengthen cooperation between the two countries across all areas of mutual benefit including food security, trade & investment, energy, defence and security.”
The two sides also agreed to convene the next meeting of the Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) in Islamabad at an early date.
The long-delayed gas pipeline vital to the south Asian country’s economy - the Pakistan Stream gas project, also known as the North-South gas pipeline - is to be built in collaboration with Russian companies.
The two countries had agreed in 2015 to build a 1,100 kilometres-long pipeline to deliver imported Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Karachi on the Arabian Sea coast to power plants in Punjab. The pipeline’s designed annual capacity stands at 12.4 billion cubic metres (bcm), with the possibility to be increased to 16 bcm.
The project, originally due to be launched in 2020, was delayed after Russian had to replace the initial participant, which was hit by Western sanctions. Sharif said in recent weeks that his government was also interested in buying wheat from Russia if it was offered at better rates. His predecessor, Imran Khan, had visited Moscow in February, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Khan alleged the visit angered the United States, which he later accused of conspiring to topple his government. Washington denies the allegation.
Bilateral cooperation between the two countries dates back to the Soviet times. Karachi Steel Mills, major thermal power facilities at Muzaffargarh, Multan-II and Guddu were built by Soviet Union.
Besides, Soviet Union also helped Pakistan in the establishment of Oil and Gas Development Corporation Ltd. (OGDCL) and in the development of agriculture sector of Pakistan.
Both the countries have similar stakes in durable peace and stability in their common neighbourhood and harbour shared aspirations for regional development and prosperity.
The upward trajectory of bilateral relations is being maintained through sustained high-level interactions and strong institutional mechanisms. Pakistan’s accession to the SCO, as a full member, has infused a new energy to the ties with the Russian Federation - who supported Pakistan’s inclusion. The year, 2017 was particularly important year from political point of view for both countries as significant meetings took place including bilateral meetings between the then Prime Minister of Pakistan and the President of the Russian Federation in Astana on 9 June 2017 and Prime Ministers of both countries in Sochi on 30 November 2017.
Both the meetings were held on the sidelines of high-level SCO meeting. Besides, there have been eight visits from Pakistan at the ministerial levels including Ministers from Foreign Affairs, Defence, Water and Power, Science and Technology, Industries and Production, Defence Production, Commerce and Textile and National Health Services in 2017.
The Pakistan-Russia defence cooperation has also steadily increased and it is marked by frequent high-level contacts between the two countries. Under the landmark ‘Defence Cooperation Agreement’ signed during the Russian Defence Minister’s visit to Pakistan in November 2014.