WASHINGTON: Facing a deep economic crisis, Pakistan has started to buy Russian oil, but the country’s petroleum minister says the future lies in diversified, especially green, energy.

Musadik Malik was visiting the United States for talks with corporations as well as with the government, which has led global efforts to choke off Russia’s oil exports that help fund its invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Malik confirmed that a first order was placed for Russian oil and would arrive within a month in Pakistan, which will then assess how much to import in the future. “Based upon the results, we’ll move forward and see for what part of our portfolio we can use Russian energy,” he told AFP.

Asked if Pakistan will pursue more Russian imports, he said, “If today we get cheaper sources of energy, we’ll go there.”

Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country, faces chronic energy shortages and imports 84 per cent of its petroleum products, overwhelmingly from Gulf Arab allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Malik said Pakistan had been fully transparent and that its initial dealings with Moscow were far less than those of other countries — notably China and India, whose enthusiastic buying of Russian oil has cast a shadow over New Delhi’s warming relationship with Washington.

“We have not faced any problems, either with the United States or with any other country,” Mr Malik said. “A whole lot of countries are legitimately getting energy from Russia,” he said.

Pakistan’s share “is a little drop, but it helps”.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, said he believed there was a broad consensus in Washington that “this is an opportunistic situation where Pakistan is desperate for cheap oil” and substantively different from India’s historic relationship with Russia.

“My sense is that Islamabad is in such a difficult state that it’s not going to risk antagonising the United States, given Washington’s influence over key international financial institutions that are important to Pakistan right now,” Kugelman said.

Pakistan, fearing the collapse of its economy, has been seeking a new tranche of a bailout from the International Monetary Fund which has demanded lasting reforms including subsidy cuts, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif taking the unpopular step of raising fuel prices.

Minister Malik said he spoke with US companies about buying shale liquefied natural gas, upgrading Pakistani refineries and storage facilities, exploring offshore oil and gas and starting horizontal drilling, a method the country does not yet use.

But Malik said his talks with the United States will also seek support for green energy in line with Pakistan’s goal of generating 30pc of electricity from renewables by 2030, including a plan for widespread solar power on rooftops.

“Strategically, it’s very clear to us that the future of energy security is in green energy,” Mr Malik said.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2023

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