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TematicheMedio Oriente e Nord AfricaPakistan’s new government working to revive defence trade with...

Pakistan’s new government working to revive defence trade with Ukraine

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While Russia and Ukraine remain engaged in a military conflict since February 2022, the period has simultaneously been tumultuous for Pakistan’s politics and foreign policy. Though Islamabad has enjoyed good relations with Ukraine since the 1990s, including arms trade, the government under former Prime Minister Imran Khan was caught in diplomatic uncertainty on the issue of Russia-Ukraine war. Not only was PM Khan in Moscow for an official visit on the very same day when Putin had announced the “special operations” in Ukrainian territory, but confusion around Pakistan became ever more apparent when it chose not to express support for Ukraine amid building up of latter’s tension with Russia.

While Russia and Ukraine remain engaged in a military conflict since February 2022, the period has simultaneously been tumultuous for Pakistan’s politics and foreign policy. Though Islamabad has enjoyed good relations with Ukraine since the 1990s, including arms trade, the government under former Prime Minister Imran Khan was caught in diplomatic uncertainty on the issue of Russia-Ukraine war. Not only was PM Khan in Moscow for an official visit on the very same day when Putin had announced the “special operations” in Ukrainian territory, but confusion around Pakistan became ever more apparent when it chose not to express support for Ukraine amid building up of latter’s tension with Russia. 

The perception of Imran leaning away from the US-led West provided an effective tool to the political opposition and the Pakistani army to target him, and the rolling anti-Khan campaign got a fresh boost with the visit to Russia, after which the PM was painted as anti-US by the opposition, media and military in his country. Islamabad was clearly told by Washington that it was closely monitoring the visit, a message that was seen as a warning for Imran not to go too far with Russia. All this notwithstanding, things escalated and culminated in the ouster of Imran government through a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly of Pakistan on April 10th, 2022. The Prime Minister’s desperate outcry of a US-led conspiracy behind his removal did little to salvage the situation or his reputation. Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, alleged US interference in the whole matter, saying that Khan paid the price of his Moscow visit.

Regardless of the internal dynamics that brought to the ousting of Imra Khan, Pakistan’s new government under Shahbaz Sharif appears to be gearing up to help Ukraine, an old defence-trade partner. However, the traditional roles played by the two countries may get switched this time. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry, Oleksii Reznikov, was rumored to be exploring possibilities of procuring traditional arms and ammunition from Islamabad. Likewise, M/s Chemica, a Slovak company that provides supply and distribution of chemical, petrochemical raw materials, and other products has reportedly sought supply of ammunition from Pakistan Ordinance Factories (POF), a defence contractor, on behalf of Ukrainian Defence Ministry. Owing to the ongoing war, the agency aims to ensure early completion of the procurement. A Bulgarian company was also understood to be in talks with the two parties to facilitate a transaction via Poland. That is to say that Ukraine and Pakistan are exploring other routes to resume trade while avoiding global scrutiny.

The revival of defence trade will build upon and strengthen an old relationship between the two countries. According to data of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), since becoming independent in 1991, Ukraine has delivered arms worth around $1.6 billion to Pakistan until 2020. In the 1990s, Ukraine supplied 320 T-84UD tanks to Pakistan’s military under a deal worth around $600 million. These tanks make up a significant portion of the Pakistan armored corps’ non-Chinese tank fleet. In 2021, Pakistan also signed an $85.6 million contract with Kyiv to repair the fleet. In recent years, Kyiv also sold engines for Pakistani tanks as part of their modernization drive and offered to sell 100 more T-84 Oplot tanks to Islamabad. The offer is timely as Pakistan would need to replace some 1,300 vehicles in the near future and Oplots seem to be fitting the bill. 

The two sides were negotiating the sale before the Russian conflict started. An upgrade in defence ties and trade was also discussed during the visit of Pakistan’s Army chief General, Qamar Javed Bajwa, to Ukraine in May 2021. During the visit, Bajwa had meetings with Ukrainian Prime Minister. Shmyhal Denys, and Deputy Prime Minister Uruskyi Oleh. The two countries had agreed to enhance cooperation in defence production, counter-terrorism, training, and intelligence domains. Other than revitalizing the Pakistan-Ukraine defence trade, the fulfillment of latest requirement by the new regime in Pakistan is likely to broaden the scope of future ties between the two countries. However, Russian reaction to the swift changes in Pakistan’s stance could become a long-term challenge for Islamabad.

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