IN a major development, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday told Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif that laying of a pipeline for the supply of gas to Pakistan from Moscow is possible.
The proposition came during a meeting between PM Shahbaz and Russian President Putin in Samarkand on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan.
The Premier reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to work closely with Russia to expand and strengthen cooperation across all areas, including food security, trade and investment, energy, defence and security.
The offer assumes special significance in the backdrop of growing energy shortages in Pakistan and lack of required progress on the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline project and TAPI due to regional issues and sanctions against Iran.
In view of hurdles in the way of implementation of these two important projects, Pakistan rightly opted to enter into a government-to-government deal with brotherly country Qatar for import of liquefied petroleum gas and also resorts to spot buying to meet its rapidly growing energy needs but domestic as well as industrial and commercial consumers suffer even during summer as imports are unable to bridge the entire gap between demand and supply.
With domestic gas reserves fast depleting, Pakistan authorities must demonstrate long term vision and adopt a diversified approach to ensure energy security as it is critical for economic development of the country.
The option of a third pipeline is worth consideration in the given dynamics of the international energy market, regional and international geo-political issues and the country’s energy requirements.
A number of issues mar prospects for an early implementation of Iran-Pakistan and TAPI projects but even if these are accomplished they are unlikely to meet our growing energy needs and, therefore, negotiations should immediately be held with the Russian Federation for the third pipeline.
The Russia offer is significant and becomes viable as Moscow has the resources to fund the project and execute it in a professional manner.
No doubt, Russia is facing sanctions these days due to its war with Ukraine but the issue would not remain there for long and necessary details should be sorted out and finalized in the intervening period.
Russia has abundant gas reserves and it can supply as much gas to Pakistan as it requires, therefore, this can become a dependable source for energy supply.
However, it all depends on Pakistan’s ability to seize the opportunity, which is not encouraging as we missed many opportunities due to lack of timely decision and foresight either due to internal weaknesses or foreign pressures.
For a long time, Russia preferred having a special relationship with India to the disadvantage of Pakistan but for several years Moscow has been making goodwill gestures towards Islamabad and it is time to make decisions based on our national interests.
It is appreciable that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has expressed unwavering resolve of his Government to work closely with Russia to expand and strengthen cooperation across all areas, including food security, trade and investment, energy, defence and security.
We hope this would not remain verbosity and the Prime Minister would give instructions to all relevant ministries and departments to give practical shape to all proposals for upgradation and strengthening of relations with the Russian Federation.
The proposal for the Russia-Pakistan pipeline should be evaluated on a fast-track basis.
There is, no doubt, a desire on the part of the people of Pakistan to have a strong relationship with Russia and it was in this backdrop that Islamabad adopted a neutral stance in the Russia-Ukraine war despite intense pressure from the United States.
Foreign policy experts and strategists point out that in the context of a complete break in relations between Russia and the West after February 24, maintaining contacts with Asian countries, including Pakistan, has unquestionably become a key strategic priority for Russia, an assessment vindicated by the latest offer of the Russian President but the key issue is translating the opportunity into practical moves.
Moscow has also been expressing its readiness to finance and execute what is called the North-South gas pipeline project which has great economic value for the country and this project should also be pursued with greater vigour.
The two countries are also constructively engaged on the Afghan issue as they have an abiding interest in a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.