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Ambassador: Pakistan Importing Russian Oil With US Approval


A crude oil tanker is seen anchored at the terminal Kozmino in Nakhodka Bay near the port city of Nakhodka, Russia, Dec. 4, 2022.
A crude oil tanker is seen anchored at the terminal Kozmino in Nakhodka Bay near the port city of Nakhodka, Russia, Dec. 4, 2022.

Pakistan said Thursday that it was buying discounted Russian crude oil with the implicit approval of the United States, and the first shipment is expected to arrive in the country soon.

Masood Khan, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., made the remarks at a conference in Washington organized by the Wilson Center's South Asia Institute on the future of relations between the two countries.

"We have placed the first order for Russian oil, and this has been done in consultation with the United States government. There's no misunderstanding between Washington and Islamabad on this count," Khan said.

The top diplomat was responding to suggestions the energy purchase could undermine Pakistan's already tumultuous relationship with the U.S.

"They have suggested that you are free to buy anything below or up to the price cap, and we have abided by that agreement. I think Washington is fine with that," Khan added without elaborating.

Vote of confidence for Sharif

He spoke just hours after Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif told the parliament in Islamabad his government was set to receive an inaugural shipment of Russian crude oil.

"As we speak, the Russian oil is being loaded to arrive here," Sharif said after securing a vote of confidence from the National Assembly, the upper house of parliament, amid opposition allegations he had lost an already thin majority in the house.

A State Department spokesperson responding to Pakistan's import of Russian energy told VOA that Washington recognizes the pressure governments face to secure affordable fuel, and each country will have to make its own choices regarding energy imports.

"We continue to coordinate with allies and partners to mitigate the impact of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine on global energy markets," the spokesperson said. "Russia's actions have clearly demonstrated it is not a reliable supplier of energy, and we encourage steps to reduce long-term dependence on energy supplies from Russia."

The State Department official, however, did not address VOA's direct question about whether the U.S. would be comfortable with Pakistan buying Russian oil as long as it's under the price cap.

Last week, Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik said Pakistan had made its first purchase of Russian crude oil at a discounted rate and the cargo would reach the country next month via sea. He did not share further details, saying Islamabad plans to increase the import volume to 100,000 barrels per day if the first transaction with Moscow goes through smoothly.

The move was expected to bring a much-needed respite to the cash-strapped South Asian nation, with energy imports making up most of its external payments.

The Sharif government has been struggling to avert a balance of payments crisis as it awaits the resumption of financial lending from the International Monetary Fund. The Pakistani central bank's foreign exchange reserves have lately fallen to nearly $4.5 billion, barely enough to cover a month of imports.

Ties with US back on track

Khan told the audience in Washington on Thursday that Pakistan's ties with the United States had suffered a "brief period of uncertainty" after the U.S.-led foreign military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, when the then-insurgent Taliban seized control of the country.

Despite being an ally of the U.S., Islamabad was accused of sheltering and supporting Taliban insurgents while they were battling the U.S. and NATO troops for almost two decades.

The Pakistani ambassador insisted the relationship with the U.S. was back on track and both sides were working to scale up economic and security partnerships.

"We are back in business. … It is important that the United States restores for Pakistan foreign military financing and foreign military sales, which were suspended by the previous [Trump] administration," the Pakistani ambassador said.

Former President Donald Trump cut military cooperation with Pakistan, citing its covert support for the Taliban, charges Pakistani leaders rejected.

Khan stressed the need for Islamabad and Washington to work together to eliminate the Islamic State-led threat of terrorism stemming from Afghanistan, noting a surge in terror attacks in Pakistan since the Taliban's return to power in the strife-torn neighboring country.

He said Pakistan was politically engaging with Taliban authorities to try to persuade them to deny Afghan space to terrorists waging deadly attacks in his country and those linked to Islamic State-Khorasan, the regional branch of Islamic State. Khan asserted that the U.S. was also "talking directly to Taliban cabinet ministers."

"Let's work together to eliminate this threat in the region," he said. "Today, it's a threat to Pakistan and Afghanistan. If unchecked, it will spread to other parts of the region and beyond. Urgent action is needed to fight this menace."

Defense talks

Senior State Department official Elizabeth Horst, speaking at the Wilson Center conference Thursday, said the last year had helped reset the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

The two countries held midlevel defense dialogues in Washington and a counterterrorism working group in Islamabad in February and March, respectively, she said.

"Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, we have been more aligned than ever with Pakistan on how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for terrorism," said the principal deputy assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary for Pakistan, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

Horst said that Washington was concerned that the number of attacks, mainly targeting Pakistani security forces, has increased.

"Pakistan has much to gain from a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, and the United States and Pakistan have a shared interest in holding the Taliban to its counterterrorism commitments." The U.S. official said that this topic was the focus of recent dialogues between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Khan also emphasized the need to work "collectively for promoting women's and girls' education and inclusive governance in Afghanistan."

No foreign government has recognized the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan. The international community is pressing the Taliban leadership to remove bans on women's access to education and work. The hard-line de facto authorities are also required to give representation to all Afghan ethnic groups in their administration.

VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching contributed to this report.