Position on Ukraine

Published February 27, 2022

IT is hard to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin has produced a long list of reasons why he made the decision to launch a full-scale attack on a neighbouring country, but none holds up to any real scrutiny.

He has calculated that the gains from his actions will outweigh the costs that Russia will have to bear. History’s verdict may take a while to be rendered but the international community’s is already out. By an overwhelming majority, nations across the world have criticised Russia’s invasion and called for the hostilities to cease immediately.

Read: Condemnations, warnings and sanctions: What global leaders are saying as Russia-Ukraine conflict intensifies

Mr Putin is unlikely to heed that call as his forces close around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Experts agree that the Ukrainian military — though defending its country valiantly — will face defeat at the hands of the far superior and larger Russian army.

In such a combustible scenario, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow has raised many eyebrows in Western capitals. Mr Khan held a scheduled meeting with President Putin as Russian forces were intruding into Ukrainian territory. The timing and optics of the meeting were less than perfect, to say the least.

Prior to his departure for Moscow, there were voices in Pakistan and abroad suggesting that Mr Khan should postpone the visit because it would have an adverse impact on Pakistan’s relationship with the US and European nations. However, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi explained after the visit that there was proper consultation with relevant experts and stakeholders on this very point and the conclusion was that the trip should proceed as planned.

Read more: Should the PM have gone to Moscow?

To an extent this is understandable as Pakistan has invested deeply in its relationship with Russia for many years and the summit meeting symbolised a crucial scaling up of these ties. Russia is a key player in the region and holds importance for Pakistan not just for political reasons but also for its energy needs. The Pak Stream project that will build a gas pipeline from Karachi to Kasur is a joint venture between the two countries and is in the final stages of being signed.

That said, Pakistan cannot afford to be bracketed in the Russian ‘camp’ at a time when global politics is once again reverting to blocs. It is in Pakistan’s interests to remain neutral and stay away from getting sucked into Great Power rivalry. This is why Islamabad should now balance Mr Khan’s visit by taking a clearer position on the invasion and call for the immediate exit of Russian forces from Ukraine. It should state clearly that it opposes the attack on an independent country as a principle. It can take this position without having to sabotage its ties with Russia. After all, Pakistan has kept its relationship with the US on track while criticising Washington’s support of Israeli persecution of Palestinians. It is a test for Pakistan’s diplomacy.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2022

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