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The Bear’s energy embrace

Russia has made Pakistan an offer it can’t refuse, though not in the mafiosi sense of the phrase. In a meeting with Pakistan’s minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, the visiting Russian deputy minister for Energy hinted at a whole range of benefits which could accrue to the energy-starved nation in case of increased cooperation between them in this vital field. Foremost among these was the export of up to 5,000 MW of electricity through Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Apart from this, the other mouth-watering offerings included massive Russian investment in Pakistan’s energy infrastructure, as for instance in converting the prohibitively expensive oil and gas based power producing plants to coal–fired ones encompassing modern technology. As a corollary, this would of course imply Russian investment in the mining and unlocking of our astronomical Thar coal reserves, which remain unutilised due to our perpetual paucity of funds, at least for projects of such national importance. The export of LNG and Russian expertise and roubles in oil exploration also figure in the catalogue. The Russian deputy minister reportedly also offered 100 per cent technical and financial assistance for the Jamshoro and Muzaffargarh power plants and was also favourably inclined towards investing in the Gaddani Power Park.

This appears on paper to be the panacea for all of Pakistan’s energy ills. That the delegation included representatives of all the leading Russian energy companies is an indicator of Russian seriousness in the recent exchanges between the two ministers. Pakistan would do well to respond to these welcome overtures in a similar spirit of cooperation and resolve, unlike the (presumably) ill-fated Pak-Iran pipeline, which still remains only a pipe dream. It should cut out the red tape and fast-track the Russian suggestions and offers. However, all the well laid plans will ultimately depend on the regional ground realities existing after the American exit from Afghanistan in 2014. Can the Afghan government and military weather the expected Taliban storm, or will the unfortunate country descend once again into chaos, with local infighting between different groups, the rise of warlordism and an arena for geopolitical rivalries, as in the not too distant past? Russia’s renewed interest in Pakistan is in direct proportion or relation to what happens in Afghanistan. President Vladimir Putin, who has slowly resurrected Russian armed might and international influence after the downfall of the Soviet Union, has remarked that Afghanistan is a ‘matter of direct concern for our national security’.

The thaw in the relations between Russia and Pakistan is now an established fact. In the 1970s the Russian’s built our only steel mill (about which the less said the better at this time), now they have increased contacts between the military high commands of the two nations and recently initiated the first Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan in Moscow initially at the foreign secretaries level, for closer political, diplomatic, economic and military relations. But much remains to be done especially on our part, so that the present two-way trade volume of a paltry US $542 million is raised to its rightful figure in the billions.

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