Bilawal in Russia to expand bilateral ties

ISLAMABAD      –      Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari flew to Russia yesterday in a bid to expand ties and enhance cooperation.

The visit comes amid reports that Russia could start exporting oil to energy-starved Pakistan after March if terms are agreed. Both the countries have expressed willingness in the recent years to enhance cooperation, forgetting the bitter past of the Cold War where Pakistan supported the United States. Pakistan and Russia have been discussing whether payment could be made in the currencies of ‘friendly’ countries. Pakistan has been battling a balance of payment crisis with foreign exchange reserves falling to $4.6 billion, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports – mostly for oil.

The foreign ministry earlier said FM Bilawal Bhutto will undertake the official visit to Moscow from January 29-30.

“The foreign minister will hold official talks with his Russian counterpart where the two sides would deliberate upon the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and exchange views on the regional and international issues of mutual interest,” Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said.

Pakistan has been considering buying discounted Russian crude since October, citing neighbouring India which has been purchasing from Moscow. Pakistani officials and Russian Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov, who was recently in Islamabad for an annual intergovernmental commission on trade and economy, said the key elements of the deal had yet to be agreed.

“As for the supply of crude oil and petroleum products, we conceptually agreed on the development and signing of an agreement that will determine and resolve all issues of logistics, insurance, payment, volumes,” Shulginov said.

Shulginov also said ‘negotiations are going on’ about settlement in the currencies of ‘friendly’ countries, meaning non-western countries that have not imposed economic sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Oil is generally paid for in US dollars.

This week, Russia and Pakistan emphasised the need for ‘practical engagement’ with Afghanistan’s Taliban but ruled out formal recognition of the Islamist rulers until they address international concerns over women’s rights and inclusive governance.

The Russian presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, led his delegation in the talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad and briefed them on his meetings earlier this month with the Taliban in Kabul.

A brief Pakistani statement posted on twitter after Kabulov’s meeting with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar said the two sides “emphasized need for practical engagement with the interim Afghan government.” 

The Pakistani side also reiterated that Islamabad was not considering giving the Taliban formal recognition and would do so only collectively with the international community.

Khar urged the international community “to continue extending assistance and support, in order to address urgent humanitarian needs and to provide a sustainable pathway for Afghanistan’s prosperity and development.” 

The Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan in August 2021 following the end of almost 20 years of US-led foreign military intervention in the conflict-torn South Asian nation. 

The world has not yet formally recognized the male-only Taliban government, mainly over human rights concerns and curbs it has placed on women’s access to work and education.

Last week, newly appointed Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke with his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, and reaffirmed Beijing’s support for the group to establish what he called “a broad and inclusive political structure” in Kabul.

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