Analyzing the Pakistani Ambassador to Russia’s Valdai Club Speech

If any prospective oil deal with Russia is doomed to fail like some key Pakistani influencers have insisted, whether due to it apparently being impossible to refine or because of American sanctions pressure, then Ambassador Khan wouldn’t have mentioned oil as part of the larger energy cooperation with Russia that his country envisions while speaking at the most important intellectual event on bilateral relations in contemporary history.

Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Shafqat Ali Khan participated in the Valdai Club’s first-ever conference on Russian-Pakistani relations that was held on Monday, during which time he shared some relevant insight into their ties. It’s crucial to pay attention to what he said since this represents the most authoritative and extensive elaboration on Russian-Pakistani relations since the scandalous ouster of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in early April.

Ambassador Khan began by emphasizing the positive progress that was achieved in building trust between these two countries step by step over the past two decades. He also touched upon prior points in their history where they tried to get closer but it ultimately didn’t work out. By contrast, Pakistan’s top diplomat in Russia said that the latest attempt has been much more successful and laid the basis for taking ties to their next natural level.

Russia and Pakistan have learned from their histories, he remarked, and his country is committed no longer participating in Great Power rivalries like during the Old Cold War. Taking a positive page from history, however, it now aspires to return to its role in promoting transregional integration between South Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia exactly as the ancient Indus Valley Civilization had done. To that end, he also emphasized Pakistan’s historical connections with those two neighboring regions.

One of the things that his country appreciates so much about Russia is its stabilizing role amidst regional disorder, with Ambassador Khan particularly pointing out its approach to the “Arab Spring” that shook North Africa and West Asia a decade ago. Pakistan also supports Russia’s sincere efforts to restore stability to Afghanistan. On a global systemic level, Ambassador Khan drew attention to how Russia and Pakistan both support international law and traditional values.

Multiple dialogue mechanisms have been created between these two over the years, especially in terms of military cooperation, which the Pakistani Ambassador praised. On the topic of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP), he acknowledged that new challenges have emerged but downplayed them as mostly being of a legal nature that his side is presently trying to overcome. He said that sanctions are an obstacle but revealed that Pakistan is exploring ways to get around banking and shipping issues.

His country’s businessmen have been a step ahead of even the state itself, Ambassador Khan said, as proven by some of them already shipping fruit to Russia via Afghanistan and Central Asia. Nevertheless, it’ll still take time for economies of scale to develop, but he believes that the Pakistani-Chinese currency swap that’s already being used Pakistani and Russian businessmen could help facilitate matters going forward.

The grand strategic goal that Pakistan wants to advance by cooperating more closely with Russia is Eurasian connectivity, which aligns with his country’s geo-economic vision that was officially institutionalized through its National Security Policy from January. Ambassador Khan assured everyone that this isn’t a geopolitical construct but a tool or vehicle for common prosperity and development. Although not directly stated, this viewpoint resembles China’s via its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

In the closing comments of his speech, Pakistan’s top diplomat in Russia told everyone that he can authoritatively say in his capacity as a government representative that all political spectrums in his country are in agreement about the importance of building good relations with Russia. This is reassuring since there’s been speculation that its new leadership, or rather those that some suspect to be calling the shots behind the scenes, might consider sacrificing ties with Russia in order to please the US.

Ambassador Khan did his utmost to put those worries to rest not only in his keynote speech at Monday’s event, but also when responding in detail to two questions that he was later asked from the audience. He emphasized the importance of pursuing the use of national currencies in bilateral trade but cautioned that this will take time to happen since both sides need to synchronize their respective systems, especially their bureaucracies.

He described trade as a solid layer of bonding and friendship between states, which is why Pakistan doesn’t want its trade with Russia to decline. Ambassador Khan then once again reaffirmed that his country’s change in government hasn’t resulted in a change in focus on Russia, which he said is fundamental for everyone to understand. He also clarified at 1:39:40 that the PSGP is just one subset of the larger energy cooperation that Pakistan envisions, which also includes oil, LNG, and other pipelines.

This confirmation from Pakistan’s top diplomat in Russia that his government is indeed interested in purchasing oil from that Moscow powerfully debunks the fake news that’s circulated within his country since its scandalous change of government alleging that no such talks have ever been countenanced. It also discredits the claims that Pakistan supposedly can’t receive Russian oil for whatever reason, whether due to it apparently being impossible to refine or because of American sanctions pressure.  

Ambassador Khan went even further in emphasizing the importance of Russian-Pakistani energy ties in all respects. To what might have been the surprise of many, he revealed that in his own words: “What I noticed from my own experiences on the bureaucracies dealing with defense and diplomatic aspects, that even energy is faster. We connect very quickly.” This means that energy cooperation, not defense and diplomatic cooperation, has thus far been the easiest aspect of their relations to advance.

Considering the fact that he clarified that oil is indeed an important part of Pakistan’s envisioned energy cooperation with Russia, there should no longer be any doubt that those who claimed otherwise were either misinformed at best or lying at worst. After all, if any prospective oil deal with Russia is doomed to fail like some insisted, then Ambassador Khan wouldn’t have mentioned this while speaking at the most important intellectual event on Russian-Pakistani relations in contemporary history.

This authoritative clarification stands as the most significant takeaway from his participation in the Valdai Club’s event. Everything else apart from the revelation that Pakistani and Russian businessmen are employing his country’s currency swap with China to facilitate bilateral trade was already more or less known among those who closely follow bilateral ties. The significance of his clarification is therefore that it should finally put to rest one of the many fake news narratives to emerge in the last two months.

It can thus be said that Pakistan has finally gotten its story straight about Russian oil at the official level, which will hopefully trickle down to the unofficial one in legacy and social media so that there’s no longer any confusion about Islamabad’s formal stance towards this issue. This observation also suggests that the multipolar school of thought within its influential military-intelligence structures (known as The Establishment in Pakistani parlance) continue to shape the country’s policy towards Russia.

That in turn inspires cautious optimism that whatever disagreements there might have been behind the scenes over this policy following Pakistan’s scandalous change of government two months ago have been smoothed out and that the country will no longer send mixed signals towards Russia like it’s thus far been since then. One can only speculate whether that was connected to former Prime Minister Khan’s ouster or not, but Ambassador Khan wants everyone to know that there’s no change in policy.

This timely reassurance will certainly be appreciated by Russia, which has been eager for clarity from the new Pakistani government over the future of their relations in the face of all these mixed signals as of late. Seeing as how energy cooperation is at the center of their increasingly strategic ties, which in turn have been maliciously twisted by key influencers in Pakistan that are generally regarded as close to the authorities that replaced Imran Khan, it can’t be overstated how important his clarification is.

Observers are now aware that Pakistan’s top diplomat in Russia acknowledged that the sanctions have created some banking and shipping issues in this sphere but should be reassured that Ambassador Khan revealed that efforts are actively underway to get around them. They can also now know for a fact oil is indeed an important part of Pakistan’s envisioned energy cooperation with Russia. All of this inspires hope that their relations will continue moving in the right direction despite recent uncertainty.

By Andrew Korybko
Source: OneWorld

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