Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba arrived in Pakistan on Thursday amid ramped-up efforts to rally the support of nations that have remained neutral on the Russian-led war.
During his first-ever ministerial visit since Pakistan and Ukraine established diplomatic relations in 1992, Kuleba will meet top Pakistani leadership, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
He is expected to discuss various issues encircling the diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries. Still, the intensifying Russia-Ukraine war will dominate discussions, a diplomatic source told Anadolu on condition of anonymity.
Islamabad, a longtime ally of the West in the latter’s lingering confrontation with Moscow, including the now-defunct USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, currently maintains a “neutral” position on the Russia-Ukraine war.
Although Islamabad has repeatedly called for respecting Kyiv’s sovereign integrity and sent humanitarian aid to the war-torn country, in a rare move, it has refused to condemn Moscow’s action.
Islamabad has thrice abstained from voting on a resolution at the UN General Assembly denouncing the “Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
“Pakistan fully supports the resolution’s call for respect for the principle of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states – a principle which also applies to Ukraine, as to other member states. States cannot be torn apart by the use of force,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in October last year.
‘No chance of change in Islamabad’s policy
Diplomatic and political analysts see “no chance” of any shift in Islamabad’s current position of staying neutral on the conflict due to recent changes in Islamabad’s foreign policy and its increasing defense and trade ties with Moscow.
“There has been a major shift in Pakistan’s policy of taking sides in recent years. It is currently pursuing a balanced approach towards global and regional conflicts, avoiding taking sides,” Munawar Hussain Pahnwar, a professor of international relations at the Quaid-i-Azam International University in Islamabad, said, citing the South Asian country’s reported refusal to join Saudi Arabia-led military action against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Also, he opined, Islamabad, which is otherwise considered a US ally, has explored its options with other regional and global blocs in terms of trade and defense relations, including Russia.
“I do not see any shift in Islamabad’s current policy on the Russia-Ukraine war, considering the shared strategic interests of Pakistan and Russia, new regional alignments and a relatively reduced US in the Middle East,” he said.
An energy-starved Pakistan, which usually looks towards oil-rich Gulf states, mainly Saudi Arabia, inked an agreement to procure Russian crude oil at discounted prices in April. The country received the first cargo of Russian crude oil at discounted prices last month and has placed an order for a second cargo.
Last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and Pakistan want to work to shape a “more just and democratic” multi-polar world order.
Addressing the Pakistani people on the 75th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries, Lavrov, who also visited Islamabad in April 2022, said Moscow treats Pakistan as a key security partner in combating terrorism and other security threats.
No possibility of the arms deal
Pahnwar ruled out the possibility of any arms deal between Kyiv and Islamabad at this stage, considering Pakistan’s “strictly neutral” policy on the conflict.
“Reports regarding Pakistani artillery shells used in the Russia-Ukraine war were released by pro-West news outlets and have already been denied by Pakistani authorities. Such ammunition might be given by the countries to which Pakistan sold years ago,” he said.
“Thus, the rumors that the Ukrainian foreign minister’s visit is to procure weapons assistance from Pakistan is a baseless narrative,” he further said.
In an interview with BBC in April this year, the commander of the 17-tank battalion of the Ukrainian army talked about receiving rockets from other countries, including Pakistan.
However, Islamabad strongly rebutted the claim, insisting the country maintained a “policy of strict neutrality.”
‘Islamabad is in gray area’
Pakistan’s former Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said Islamabad has pursued a “balanced” approach toward the Russia-Ukraine conflict and will continue to do so.
Speaking to Anadolu, Chaudhry, who served as the country’s foreign secretary from 2013 to 2017, said: “Despite having improved relations with Moscow, Pakistan is a longtime ally of the West and has had good ties with Kyiv; therefore, it has pursued a balanced approach towards the conflict.”
Trade between Islamabad and Kyiv started with the establishment of diplomatic relations in April 1992, and the current annual trade volume between the two sides is nearly $450 million.
Pakistan is also a significant importer of wheat from Ukraine.
Like many other countries, Chaudhry further said Islamabad is in the “gray area” vis-a-vis the Russia-Ukraine war.
“Pakistan recognizes the internationally followed rule that no bigger state should be allowed to attack a smaller nation and the principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity must be honored; but, at the same time, the bigger country should not be provoked to do that,” he maintained.
He opined that NATO has continuously provoked Moscow by inducting former USSR and Eastern European states into the NATO alliance, which forced Russia to take the “preemptive” step.
“The Ukraine issue (proposed induction into NATO) could have been resolved diplomatically through a dialogue. But it seems that the bigger powers are more interested in keeping Russia bogged down in Ukraine through a proxy war,” he said.