ISLAMABAD: Russia has agreed to have direct flights from Pakistan by allowing the use of its air corridor with Central Asian Republics (CARs) and open direct banking links besides enhancing the scope of scholarships for technical and science education disciplines which are prohibited for Pakistan in the western world.

“These are major breakthroughs” in the post-cold war era, Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub Khan told the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Economic Affairs at its meeting presided over by Mir Khan Mohammad Jamali on Monday.

He said physical work on two major projects from CARs — Central Asia South Asia Power Transmission Line (CASA-1300) and Turkmenistan-Pakistan Gas Pipeline — had come to a halt due to recent Afghan situation.

Mr Khan, who has recently returned from Russia, told the meeting that for the first time the two sides had signed a memorandum of understanding for banking communication and the central banks of the two countries would now make arrangements for banks and financial institutions to settle financial transactions.

Banking links, enhancing scope of scholarships for science education also on the cards

Mr Khan said the two sides had committed to meet every month until they signed a shareholding agreement by February 15 to achieve major milestones for the Russian and Pakistani nominated entities on $2 billion to 2.5bn worth of PakStream Gas Pipeline project.

He said Russian government had set up a private sector special purpose vehicle — PakStream Company — to implement the project from Karachi to Lahore. With 90 per cent investment to come from Russia, Pakistan’s state-run Inter-State Gas Systems would be part of the project that would move towards physical implementation after the shareholding agreement is signed in February.

He said the two sides had also finalised draft of the minutes under which the air-corridor between the two nations would open. “This is another breakthrough with Russia” because it took almost 21 hours to reach Russia and adjoining CARs Turkmenis­tan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan etc. The direct air traffic will ensure travel between Islamabad and Moscow in four hours and provide direct access with CARs as well.

He said the two sides were also engaged in discussions on modernisation of Pakistani railway network and rolling stock with the Russian assistance and investment, including supply of rolling stock and equipment.

The minister said Russia’s technological advancement was very high and it had agreed to enhance scholarships and admissions to Pakistani students of various disciplines of higher learning in which the West was not allowing Pakistani students. Some of the areas he quoted are: artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced computing, nano-technology, advanced mathematics, cryptography and cyber security.

Overall, the committee was informed that after cold war the Russians had now shown unprecedented interest in making investments in Pakistan by laying Pak Stream Pipeline, establishing banking channels to enhance mutual trade, starting direct flights between Russia and Pakistan and increasing scholarships quota for Pakistani students in higher technical courses.

During the course of discussion on ongoing negotiations for economic co-operation with other countries, the committee was informed that several projects worth billions of rupees would be undertaken as a result of negotiations with European Union, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Germany, Russia and Azerbaijan.

The committee was also told that with financial assistance by Germany, a centre of excellence would be established at Karakoram University, Gilgit, to determine the ratio of glacier melting at Karakoram Mountain range and some low powered hydro-power projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and a low-powered grid station at Chakwal would be established.

The committee did not encourage discussion on PTI member Alia Hamza’s proposal for an investigation and action against Asma Jehangir Foundation when the agenda relating to funding for international and domestic non-governmental organisations came up. Ms Hamza said NGOs receiving funds from abroad should be proceeded against and banned for criticising judges and institutions and allowing a convict (PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif) to address a conference. Some members believed that even such proposals to contain freedom of expressions could affect GSP plus trade besides other commercial and financial cooperation.

The committee expressed concern over non-completion of some projects in time. The committee directed the Economic Affairs Division to provide details of agreements signed with the Saudi government in next meeting.

The committee unanimously condemned brutal murder of a Sri Lankan citizen in Sialkot by a violent mob. Terming the incident an act as against humanity, the panel called for stern action against the culprits.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2021

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