While details of talks held and agreements reached at the SCO summit have yet to be made public, the meeting between PM Shehbaz Sharif and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the conference has assumed special significance. It indicates that Pakistan is not turning its back on Russia and continues to maintain a balance in its ties with Washington and Moscow. Russia is not only a major power and a founding member of the SCO, it also shares Pakistan’s concerns regarding terrorist networks and is keen to have peace in Afghanistan. What is more, it is investing 26 percent of the $3 billion needed to construct the pipeline with an added promise of providing Russian gas
The relations between Russia and Pakistan had already started warming up under the last PML(N) government when Pakistan sought Russian assistance to build the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP)meant to deliver natural gas from coastal regions to industrial areas in the north, enhancing Pakistan’s capacity to transport imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) internally.
Pak-Russia ties were further strengthened during the PTI rule after the two day visit to Islamabad by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in April 2021 followed by PM Imran Khan’s visit to Russia a year later. Two months later Pakistan and Russia signed a protocol on the amendments to the agreement on the Gas Pipeline Project.
In March this year the Petroleum Division had reportedly stopped talks on a shareholding agreement and decided to first seek the legal opinion of an international firm about the impact of sanctions imposed on Russia by the USA and the UK in the wake of military action in Ukraine. Pakistan needs to tell the USA and its western allies that after going through the Covid-19 pandemic followed by the choking of the international supply chain and now with floods and rains on a biblical scale, caused by climate change, Pakistan needs investment as well as access to cheap energy. There is a need on the part of the USA to abandon double standards like allowing India to buy Russian oil and barring others from making deals of the sort. Pakistan and many other countries in the region can have access to cheaper gas only when the USA lifts sanctions imposed on Iran. The sooner it does the better for the world.