Pakistan’s Ambassador to Russia Shafqat Ali Khan participated in Valdai Club’s first conference on Russian-Pakistani relations which was held on Monday, during which he shared insightful insight into their ties. It is crucial to pay attention to what he said, as it is the most authoritative and thorough elaboration on Russian-Pakistani relations since the outrageous ousting of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the early april.
Ambassador Khan began by highlighting the positive progress that has been made in building trust between these two countries step by step over the past two decades. He also touched on earlier points in their history where they tried to get closer, but it ultimately didn’t work out. By contrast, Pakistan’s top diplomat in Russia said the latest attempt had been much more successful and had laid the groundwork to take ties to their next natural level.
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Better understand the subject
Russia and Pakistan have learned from their histories, he noted, and his country has pledged to no longer participate in great power rivalries as during the former Cold War. Taking a positive page in history, however, it now aspires to regain its role in promoting cross-regional integration between South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia just as the ancient civilization of the Indus Valley. To this end, he also highlighted Pakistan’s historical ties with these two neighboring regions.
One of the things his country values so much about Russia is its stabilizing role amid regional unrest, with Ambassador Khan particularly highlighting its approach to the “Arab Spring” that has rocked North Africa and the United States. West Asia ten years ago. Pakistan also supports Russia’s sincere efforts to restore stability in Afghanistan. On a global systemic level, Ambassador Khan drew attention to how Russia and Pakistan uphold both international law and traditional values.
Multiple dialogue mechanisms have been created between these two over the years, especially in military cooperation, which the Pakistani ambassador praised. On the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP), he acknowledged that new challenges have arisen but downplayed them as mainly legal in nature which his side is currently trying to overcome. He said sanctions were an obstacle, but revealed that Pakistan was exploring ways to circumvent banking and shipping issues.
His country’s businessmen are even one step ahead of the state itself, Ambassador Khan said, as evidenced by the fact that some of them are already shipping fruit to Russia via China. Afghanistan and Central Asia. Nevertheless, it will still take time for economies of scale to develop, but he thinks the Pakistani-Chinese currency exchange already used by Pakistani and Russian businessmen could make things easier in the future.
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What future for Russian-Pakistani relations?
The big strategic goal that Pakistan wants to advance by cooperating more closely with Russia is Eurasian connectivity, which aligns with his country’s geo-economic vision that was formally institutionalized through its National Security Policy from January. Ambassador Khan assured everyone that this is not a geopolitical construct but a tool or vehicle for common prosperity and development. Although not directly stated, this view resembles that of China via its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).
In the closing comments of his speech, the head of Pakistan’s diplomacy in Russia told everyone that he could say with authority, as a representative of the government, that all political walks of his country were of agreement on the importance of establishing good relations with Russia. This is reassuring as there has been speculation that its new leaders, or rather those whom some suspect are making the decisions behind the scenes, may be considering sacrificing their ties to Russia to please the United States.
Ambassador Khan went out of his way to allay those concerns not only in his opening speech at Monday’s event, but also by answering in detail two questions that were then posed to him by the audience. He stressed the importance of continuing the use of national currencies in bilateral trade, but warned that this will take time as both sides need to synchronize their respective systems, especially their bureaucracies.
He described trade as a solid layer of ties and friendship between states, which is why Pakistan does not want its trade with Russia to decline. Ambassador Khan then reaffirmed once again that his country’s change of government did not lead to a change in focus on Russia, which he said is fundamental for everyone to understand. He also clarified at 1:39:40 that the PSGP is only a subset of the greater energy cooperation that Pakistan is considering, which also includes oil, LNG and other pipelines.
This confirmation from Pakistan’s top diplomat in Russia that his government is indeed interested in buying oil from Moscow powerfully debunks the fake news circulating in his country since his scandalous change of government alleging that none of these discussions have ever been allowed. It also discredits claims that Pakistan supposedly cannot receive Russian oil for whatever reason, whether because it is apparently unrefinable or because of US sanctions pressure.
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The importance of Russian-Pakistani relations
Ambassador Khan went even further by emphasizing the importance of Russian-Pakistani energy relations in all respects. To the surprise of many, he revealed that in his own words: “What I have noticed from my own experiences with bureaucracies dealing with defense and diplomatic aspects is that even energy is faster. We connect very quickly. This means that energy cooperation, not defense and diplomatic cooperation, has so far been the easiest aspect of their relationship to advance.
Considering the fact that he clarified that oil is indeed an important part of Pakistan’s envisioned energy cooperation with Russia, there should be no doubt that those who claimed otherwise were misinformed at best. or at worst were lying. After all, if any possible oil deal with Russia is doomed, as some have insisted, Ambassador Khan would not have mentioned this during his speech at the most important intellectual event on the Russian-Pakistani relations in contemporary history.
This authoritative clarification is the most important conclusion of his participation in the Valdai Club event. Everything else, apart from the revelation that Pakistani and Russian businessmen are using his country’s currency swap with China to facilitate bilateral trade, was already more or less known to those who follow bilateral relations closely. The significance of her clarification, then, is that she should finally put an end to one of the many fake news stories that have emerged over the past two months.
So it can be said that Pakistan has finally gotten its Russian oil story clear at the official level, which will hopefully trickle down to the official in legacy and social media so that there is no more confusion over Islamabad’s formal position on this issue. This observation also suggests that the multipolar school of thought within its influential military intelligence structures (known as The Establishment in Pakistani parlance) continue to shape the country’s policy towards Russia.
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The effects of ousting PM Khan
This in turn prompts cautious optimism that any disagreements that may have arisen behind the scenes over this policy following Pakistan’s outrageous change of government two months ago have been ironed out and the country stop sending mixed signals towards Russia as it has been so far since then. Whether or not this was related to the ousting of former Prime Minister Khan can only be speculated, but Ambassador Khan wants everyone to know that there is no change in policy.
This timely assurance will certainly be appreciated by Russia, which has been eager to seek clarification from the new Pakistani government on the future of their relationship in the face of all these mixed signals of late. Considering how central energy cooperation is to their increasingly strategic ties, which in turn have been maliciously twisted by key influencers in Pakistan who are generally seen as close to the authorities who replaced Imran Khan, one cannot overemphasize how important his clarification is.
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Observers now know that the top Pakistani diplomat in Russia acknowledged that the sanctions have created banking and maritime problems in this area, but should be reassured that Ambassador Khan revealed that efforts are actively underway to circumvent them. They can also now know for sure that oil is indeed an important part of Pakistan’s envisioned energy cooperation with Russia. All of this gives hope that their relationship will continue to move in the right direction despite the recent uncertainties.
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst, radio host and regular contributor to several online media outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, in particular US strategy in Eurasia. The article has been republished and the opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.