WEB DESK: Pak-Russian relations, on the mend for a while, are entering a new phase of friendship. While talking to members of a delegation of Russian-Pakistani Inter-governmental Commission on Economic, Trade and Scientific Co-operation, in Islamabad on Thursday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif renewed his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the request that he inaugurate the proposed North-South Gas Pipeline.
The invitation has already been accepted, as adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told the National Assembly three months ago. Inauguration of the project by President Putin himself would signify the two countries’ desire to forge mutually beneficial ties after decades of rocky and, at times, adversarial relations.
During the Cold War years even though Pakistan was in the rival camp, Russia’s predecessor state, the erstwhile Soviet Union, helped this country with both financial and technical assistance for the construction of its largest public sector industry, Pakistan Steel Mills. Unfortunately, things between them were to get from bad to worse and worst, due to well-known reasons, before they started getting better in the recent years amid changing geopolitical realities.
For a while, the two countries have been working closely both through bilateral contacts and within regional organisations to enhance co-operation. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister and the Russian President, in a meeting on the sidelines of Shanghai Co-operation Organisation Summit at Ufa, discussed, among other issues of common interest, the need to expedite progress on the North-South Gas Pipeline project.
As per an agreement signed earlier this year, Russians are to invest $2.5 billion in the 1,100-km long pipeline with a capacity to transport 12.4 billion cubic metres per annum of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from terminals in Karachi to Lahore. To be completed in three phases over a 42-month period ending by the second quarter of 2020, the project will be constructed on Build, Own, Operate and Transfer basis, helping this country tide over its energy shortages, and providing Russian companies with a new gas export market. Pakistan can also benefit from that country’s energy sector expertise for the exploitation of its own oil and gas resources as well as mutually beneficial trade and investment opportunities.
The two countries have increasingly shared concerns, too, about regional and international developments, especially as they relate to terrorism, resolution of the Afghan conflict, and geo-strategic realignments. Hence, last July when CoAS General Raheel Sharif visited Russia, the first such visit of a Pakistan Army chief, he received an exceptionally warm welcome.
Once a major supplier of military hardware to India, last year Moscow announced lifting of its arms embargo on this country. Under a landmark defence deal signed last August, Russia is to supply Pakistan with four Mi-35 attack helicopters and later Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets as well. More military assistance is expected to follow. This would be an important, indeed a very positive, shift from Islamabad’s longstanding policy of putting all eggs in the same basket – that of the US.