Pakistan keen to work on gas project, PM Imran assures Putin

Published January 18, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Imran Khan pose for a photo prior to a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Heads of State in Bishkek on June 14, 2019. — AFP/File
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Imran Khan pose for a photo prior to a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Heads of State in Bishkek on June 14, 2019. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday reassured Russian President Vladimir Putin of Pakistan’s commitment to collaborate with Russia on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project as the two leaders discussed the expansion of bilateral economic and energy cooperation.

PM Khan and President Putin spoke by phone about the progress in relations between the two countries, regional situation, Islamo­phobia and justification of blasphemy by some of the western countries as freedom of expression.

Coincidentally, the conversation happened as India began installing the first of the Russia-supplied S-400 ‘Triumf’ surface-to-air missile systems on its borders with Pakistan. India plans to deploy five S-400 regiments.

“The prime minister underscored that Pakistan’s bilateral relationship with Russia was on an upward trajectory, with an increased focus on trade and economic ties and energy cooperation. He reiterated the government’s resolve for early realisation of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project,” the Prime Minister Office said in a statement.

Mr Khan, meanwhile, tweeted: “We discussed ways to move forward on trade and other mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries.”

Imran, Russian president discuss expansion of bilateral economic, energy cooperation

According to Kremlin: “The discussion focused on the development of Russian-Pakistani ties in different areas, including trade, the economy, energy and the humanitarian sphere, as well as combating the spread of the coronavirus infection.”

Ties between Islamabad and Moscow have been on an upward trajectory for nearly a decade and a half because of their growing geopolitical convergences, but apart from a few gestures they still do not have much concrete progress to celebrate. It is believed by many that economic relations can provide the much-needed foundation for the development of trust and ultimately the desired strategic partnership.

Collaboration between the two countries in the construction of 1,100km-long gas pipeline connecting Karachi with Lahore at a cost of nearly $2.5 billion can provide the much-needed fillip. Negotiations on the project, formerly known as the North-South Gas Pipeline, started in 2015 and after multiple delays the two parties are expected to sign their shareholder agreement in February.

There is a perception in Moscow that delays in the conclusion of the deal happened because some quarters in Islamabad had been opposing the project which, besides obvious economic benefits for the two countries, entailed clear geopolitical implications.

PM Khan during the conversation again invited President Putin to visit Pakistan.

Mr Putin’s visit has been long awaited. Russians say it has been getting delayed because it is not expected to yield any substantive outcome. The gas deal is likely to remove that hurdle. Kremlin said the two leaders “agreed to continue their contacts”.

Blasphemy

PM Khan praised President Putin for his criticism of the incidents of blasphemy in Western countries.

The prime minister tweeted that he had called President Putin “primarily to express appreciation for his emphatic statement that freedom of speech could not be a pretext to abuse our Prophet PBUH. He is the first Western leader to show empathy & sensitivity to Muslim sentiment for their beloved Prophet PBUH”.

Mr Putin had in his annual news conference on Dec 23 said: “Why offend Prophet Muhammad? Is this an act of artistic freedom? I do not think so. This is a violation of the freedom of worship, which offends the rights of the people who practice Islam, which leads to other, even more radical and extremist manifestations.”

Kremlin’s statement on the conversation noted Mr Khan’s appreciation of the statement, saying he underscored the broad support in Pakistani society and the Muslim world in general for the Russian president’s statements.

Mr Putin told Mr Khan that the Russian Federation had historically been a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state, where people practicing different religions, including Islam, traditionally co-existed and interacted, according to Kremlin.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2022

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