Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan always finds himself in the wrong places at the wrong time. Most recently, he was on a “working visit” to Russia on February 23 and 24. Russia described the visit as a ‘business tour’. Imran Khan, though, had big expectations from the visit – none of which were fulfilled.
However, even in business and commercial terms, nothing significant was achieved by Islamabad. Instead, some non-important MoUs were signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Imran Khan, which could have been worked out even without an official visit.
Essentially, Imran Khan was used by Vladimir Putin for a photo-op. No matter how strained Islamabad’s relations with the West are, Pakistan is still considered more of a ‘Western’ camp participant than a country that is on Russia’s side. As such, having Imran Khan shake hands with Putin just hours after the Kremlin launched an invasion over Ukraine was a significant win for Moscow. It showed the United States that countries which Washington considers its allies can be stolen from right under its nose by Moscow at any time.
The operative word here is ‘showed’. Appearances matter in international diplomacy. Is Russia interested in building strong ties with Pakistan? Absolutely not. It would not want to antagonise New Delhi and lose an ally like India by doing so.
Imran Khan Used by Kremlin
The only purpose that Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow served was of showing that Russia, even at a time when it orders an invasion of Ukraine, is not globally isolated. It was a show of strength that Putin undertook. On Pakistan’s part, the Islamic country was hoping to get Russian help for the development of a 1,100 km-long pipeline to deliver imported Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from Karachi to power plants in Pakistan’s northeastern province of Punjab.
The cost of the project is estimated between $1.5 billion and $3.5 billion, of which Russia will bear 26% and the remaining 74% by Pakistan. Meanwhile, the project has not seen the light of day and is merely at the stage where feasibility studies regarding it are being conducted.
Imran Khan had hoped to acquire Russian funding and material aid for the project. Vladimir Putin did not comply with such requests and agreed to foot less than even 30 per cent of the project’s estimated cost. Needless to say, the project continues to remain a non-starter for Pakistan despite Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow.
Imran Khan also raised the Kashmir bogey with the Russian President. Again, Moscow remained indifferent to the toxic Pakistani narrative and stood by its old friend – India.
In fact, such as Moscow’s apathy towards Imran Khan, the Kremlin summarised his visit in two insignificant lines. A statement by the Kremlin said, “The leaders of the two countries discussed the main aspects of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on current regional topics, including developments in South Asia. Earlier in the day, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall.”
Message to Joe Biden
The United States is reportedly ‘upset’ over Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow, especially at a time when Washington was expecting all its allies, friends and partners to boycott Russia. You see, this was exactly what Vladimir Putin wanted to achieve. He masterfully used Imran Khan to serve Moscow’s purposes. Simultaneously, he hoped to annoy Joe Biden and Europe. Both these objectives have been met.
European diplomatic circles are said to be outraged at Pakistan, while the U.S. State Department and the Biden administration are shocked to see Islamabad indulging Moscow at such a crucial time.
Vladimir Putin, on his part, humiliated Imran Khan, denied Pakistan any significant assistance, and was also able to project Russia as a country which the U.S. will find impossible to isolate on the world stage.