Incumbent Pakistani Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan’s claims about his country’s energy cooperation with Russia contradict his predecessor Hammad Azhar’s. Quite clearly, only one of those two ministers is correct: either the incumbent one or his predecessor. In order to get to the bottom of figuring out which one it is, it’s important to share some facts about Russian-Pakistani energy cooperation.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s repeated claims that he was negotiating a deal to import energy from Russia at a 30% discount have become the center of that country’s latest scandal connected to his contentious ouster in early April. He believes that the no-confidence motion against him was part of a US-orchestrated regime change plot to punish him for his independent foreign policy, especially its Russian dimension, while the opposition insists that it was constitutional, legal, and was only due to his mismanagement of the economy. The former premier’s revelation about the alleged details connected to his purported negotiations with Russia challenges the pretext behind his ouster since the lack of progress on them since then suggests that economic issues weren’t the reason why he was removed.
New Pakistani Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan was reported by Dawn to have said on Tuesday that “I also tell you clearly that the Imran Khan’s claim of buying oil and gas from Russia is absolutely false and baseless, as there is no paper / evidence available with the quarters concerned. Whatever they are claiming in this regard is just a lie.” That prompted his predecessor to tweet a letter that he sent to his Russian counterpart Nikolai Shulginov on 30 March thanking him for the hospitality that his delegation received during their latest visit to Moscow at the end of February where he wrote that “a wide range of issues on cooperation in Energy were discussed.” He then said that Pakistan wants to “fast-track” negotiations on the import of LNG as well as crude and diesel “on concessional terms”.
Former Minister Hammad Azhar also wrote in his tweet that “IK as PM chaired 2 meetings on the subject & we were aiming for purchasing first cargoes in April.” Quite clearly, only one of those two ministers is correct: either the incumbent one or his predecessor. In order to get to the bottom of figuring out which one it is, it’s important to share some facts about Russian-Pakistani energy cooperation. Minister Shulginov and Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Shafqat Ali Khan signed a document on 28 May 2021 enabling the start of construction on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline in the near future according to TASS, a reputable Russian media outlet. In November, that Russian official and former Pakistani Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub Khan discussed further energy cooperation.
According to TASS, Minister Shulginov said during the intergovernmental commission on trade that “We believe that today a decision has been made to move towards the start of the construction, and that there will be proposals from Novatek on LNG supplies.” Minister Ayub Khan was reported to have said in response to that proposal that “Two more private terminals will be required, there is no limit of intent here, so by all means, we are ready to discuss the construction of new terminals.” On the same day as former Minister Azhar’s scanned letter to his Russian counterpart, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement following Minister Sergey Lavrov’s discussion with his former Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehood Qureshi which adds further insight into the research question.
Per TASS’ report, “Readiness was expressed to build up the multidiscipline bilateral interaction. The increase of the trade turnover and implementation of a range of projects in the energy sphere, including construction of the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline, were identified as priority tasks.” This suggests that their discussions about projects in the energy sphere included the pipeline that was specified but weren’t exclusive to it. That’s a credible interpretation considering the press release that was shared by the Pakistani Embassy in Moscow’s official Facebook account following former Prime Minister Khan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in late February where it was reported that “The two sides also discussed cooperation on prospective energy related projects”, thus hinting at other ones.
Less than a week before former Minister Azhar’s letter and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, Express Tribune cited unnamed sources in their report on 24 March titled “Pakistan in talks with Russia for LNG imports”. According to this reputable Pakistani outlet, “Sources said the Pakistani government was interested to sign a government-to-government deal with Russia to import LNG to meet its growing gas demand. They added that Russia was developing the Yamal Project, which would be one of the largest LNG facilities in the world. Russia is also meeting the demand of Europe by exporting gas through a pipeline despite the opposition of the US. The sources said Pakistan LNG Limited was in talks with Russian firms Gazprom and Novatek to import the gas.”
Express Tribune also reported on some crucial details about these reported talks that grant further credence to their existence at the time. In their words, “Russia is too far away and Pakistan might face higher freight charges in comparison with LNG cargoes coming from Qatar. However, Russia might have the option to follow LNG cargo swap with other companies operating close to Pakistan that could result in cutting the freight charges.” Unless the journalist shared this information because they’re an industry expert and thought it relevant to inform their audience about, that possibility suggests that the outlet’s sources were where that scenario first emerged from. The report’s timing less than a week ahead of former Minister Azhar’s letter and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement might not be coincidental.
Considering all these objectively existing and easily verifiable facts connected to Russian-Pakistani energy cooperation under former Prime Minister Khan’s government, there’s every reason to believe that the ousted leader was indeed in talks with Russia on the import of discounted fuel for his energy-deficient country exactly as his Energy Minister claimed in the scanned document that he shared on Twitter. This casts doubt on incumbent Minister Dastgir Khan’s claim that “I also tell you clearly that the Imran Khan’s claim of buying oil and gas from Russia is absolutely false and baseless, as there is no paper / evidence available with the quarters concerned. Whatever they are claiming in this regard is just a lie.” Hopefully he’ll soon clarify his statement in light of the evidence that was just shared in this analysis.