Islamabad, June 1: After Pakistan and Russia signed a fresh agreement to lay a gas pipeline, prospects of Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting Islamabad for the very first time were on the cards.
The project, previously named The North-South Gas Pipeline, has now been renamed as Pakistan Steam Gas Pipeline, in which a gas pipeline will be laid from Pakistan's Karachi city to Kasur. It is a flagship project between the two countries, which intends to remove the memories of rivalry of the Cold War and bring both countries on the road to bilateral ties. Both Pakistan and Russia have been working to materialise Putin's visit.
In April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Islamabad after a gap of at least nine years. As per official details, Lavrov came with a message that Moscow was willing to extend all possible help to Islamabad and create pathways for bilateral relations. Prime Minister Imran Khan has already extended a formal invitation to President Putin. Experts have said that with the signing of the Pakistan Steam Pipeline agreement, the visit of President Putin has become even more significant and important.
Pakistan is anxious to have President Putin inaugurate the groundbreaking of the gas pipeline project, which is expected to be held later this year or in early 2022. Pakistan and Russia are also seeking more avenues of cooperation. As per sources, Russia is keen on selling arms to Pakistan, something it avoided in the past because of opposition by India. It is pertinent to mention that both countries have been holding regular joint military exercises since 2016. Russia and Pakistan are also in close contact in the peace process and ongoing regional security issues including Afghanistan. The Pakistan Steam Gas Pipeline is a stepping-stone in normalisation of relations between the two countries, which has been strained for years due to Cold War rivalry.
The project was originally signed in 2015. However, it could not be initiated due to possible sanctions by the US on Russian companies. Initially, Russia was to build 100 per cent of the pipeline under the "build, operate and transfer" model. However, with the new and amended agreement, Pakistan will have at least 74 per cent stakes. The total cost of the project is around $2.25 billion. It will be beneficial in meeting the gas shortage in Pakistan's Punjab province.
Analysts say that the project not only has economic significance but also holds great strategic importance for Pakistan.