Set to meet Putin, PM Imran walks a tightrope

Published February 24, 2022
MOSCOW: Prime Minister Imran Khan receives guard of honour upon his arrival in Russia on a two-day official visit on Wednesday.—INP
MOSCOW: Prime Minister Imran Khan receives guard of honour upon his arrival in Russia on a two-day official visit on Wednesday.—INP

MOSCOW: At a time when the world’s eyes are glued to events unfolding on the Russia-Ukraine border, and with the US-led Western powers slamming the Kremlin, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday arrived in Moscow on a two-day official visit.

The PM was greeted by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov upon his arrival. The PM was also presented a guard of honour. He is expected to meet President Vladimir Putin on Thursday (today).

The last Pakistani premier to visit Russia was Nawaz Sharif in March 1999, while former president Asif Ali Zardari came to Moscow in 2011.

Mr Khan’s visit is viewed by many in and outside Pakistan with much anticipation though the Pakistan government terms it a prelude to greater relationship in strategic, energy and regional connectivity. The timing of the visit has been discussed threadbare but top Pakistani government officials term it one of the rarest opportunities for the energy-starved country to make headway in energy, regional connectivity and role in Afghanistan post US-withdrawal.

Pakistan looking for Russian assistance in energy sector

In a brief interaction with the Pakistani journalists, a senior government official said energy would be the key sector Pakistan is looking to make strides in.

As the PM has already played down the timing of the visit and any effect it would have on Pakistan’s relations with the West, there is a thinking that this visit is a double-edged sword and the government must tread with caution.

Read: 'Tread with caution': Analysts comment on PM Imran's Russia trip amid Ukraine tensions

National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf, however, rejected the notion about the timing of the visit. “Yes there is a global tension but our visit is of bilateral nature and the similar path was taken in the visit to China where economy, economic indicators and connectivity was at the heart of that tour,” he said.

Asked about Pakistan’s stance when the crisis deepens, he said Pakistan’s message for Russia and the whole world was that it was not in any zero-sum game and there was no such [demand] from Kremlin as well.

That apparently clarifies the dust surrounding Mr Khan’s visit but Thursday’s meeting and a joint declaration isn’t something that can be predicted.

The rising tensions over the Ukraine-Russia crisis have been brewing for more than two months, by now no effort has brought success to lessen the tensions, which are already putting country like Pakistan under immense pressure for several reasons.

Thursday will not be a random day for PM Khan to have a diplomatic speech as he is expected to be measured and calculated in his words. The world is watching us, Pakistan eyes greater role in Afghanistan, encouraging progress on gas pipeline and renewed relationship, which has bitter history since we got into the US-led camp in throwing out the Red Army from Kabul.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2022

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