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TematicheCina e Indo-PacificoPakistan’s Dilemma in ties with Russia Amid Continuing Ukraine...

Pakistan’s Dilemma in ties with Russia Amid Continuing Ukraine Crisis

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The prolonged Ukraine-Russia conflict has put immense pressure on Pakistan’s economy, while it is trying hard to balance ties with Russia and the Western bloc. Islamabad is at the mercy of the US and Europe as they are major markets for its exports and investors. Hurting relations with Western countries will only exacerbate its economic hardships, which are currently facing turmoil. On the other hand, Russia’s promised energy and wheat supply is what Islamabad urgently needed to give some respite to its citizens during the ongoing economic crisis.

Pakistan faces an unprecedented complex situation in maintaining and balancing its ties with both Russia and the West, especially with the US and EU. So far Islamabad maintained a ‘neutral’ stance on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and it is also unwilling to support the Western bloc, in spite of pressure from its Western trading partners. However, with the Ukraine war intensifying and rising pressure from the West to review its position on the conflict, Pakistan faces the mammoth task of navigating its fragile economy through this dilemma amidst its domestic political turmoil. Islamabad had played so far on both sides of the conflict, supplying defence supplies such as cluster munitions, rockets, howitzer shells and other ammunition to Ukraine’s military, while at the same time seeking cheaper oil and wheat from Russia. It faces increased pressure from the Western countries with regard to human rights violations in its exports, including from the US. The Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) offered by the EU is under review for these violations, something that would inevitably hurt its exports, as the EU absorbs 28% of Pakistani exports. Textiles export is one of the saviors for the forex crisis that hit Islamabad, which is under threat now. Furthermore, the promised investment has come down dramatically in recent times. Pakistan is unable to get funding from the International Monetary Fund and the frustration is growing in the country.

With the changing geo-political scenario, Islamabad views Moscow as a key long-term partner in Central Asia and the Middle East, looking for increased trade and investment in the region to supplement its national development. This view further exacerbated the fear of intensified Russia-India relations, dominating the Indian subcontinent during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The war has hurt Pakistan in many ways, affecting stifled Pakistan’s trade with both Ukraine and Russia. Its trade with Ukraine fell sharply to USD 39.4 million in 2021-22 from USD 757.14 million in the previous year. It also impacted Islamabad’s defence cooperation with Kyiv, including maintenance of Ukraine supplied 300 T-80 UD tanks, joint production of Al-Khalid tanks, modernization programme of Pak Army’s tanks and Pakistan Air Force’s IL 78 aircraft.

To mitigate risks emanating from high global oil, gas and food prices driven by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Islamabad had already initiated deepening cooperation with Russia in two key areas namely energy and food security. With the war entering into the second year, Pakistan has also shifted its wheat imports to Russia from Ukraine. Energy cooperation, especially supply of crude oil and natural gas from Russia was a crucial area and both countries had deliberated on the modalities recently. Islamabad’s intent is to finalize long-term agreements with Moscow to import crude oil and LNG to meet its energy requirements. Apart from trade, Pakistan and Russia are also considering to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in non-power application of nuclear technology, including radiation safety regulations. With the increased cooperation, Pakistan also hopes for pacifying Moscow’s irritation on the delay in implementation of USD 2.5 billion Pakistani Stream Gas Pipeline, which is vital for its futuristic development plan.
Pakistan is also mulling to sign a MoU on transit trade with the Kremlin and hopes that Russian interest would help iron out glitches in its transit trade with Central Asian countries to capture the market, using the overland International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) corridor. Islamabad is walking on a knife edge and facing an unprecedented dilemma in its foreign policy, which pertains choosing between Russia and its traditional geo-political partners, i.e. the US and its allies on one hand and China on the other. Today China might have shifted towards Russia due to geo-political compulsions, but in Central Asia they are more like competitors than friends when it comes to sphere of influence.  Likewise, partnership of Pakistan with China is not something that the US and its Western allies appreciate, so it is to be seen how Islamabad manages its balancing act and whether it will tilt towards Russia along with China. Though the Russian promises would help Pakistan in the long run, the country is facing imminent default where only Western powers could help avoid the crisis. China’s record in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the framework of regional connectivity, is already facing several hurdles and criticisms. The times for Pakistan are not only difficult, but also immensely fluid.

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