In February 2022, as Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers were amassing on the border with Ukraine, Imran Khan, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, landed in Moscow on a Pakistan Air Force plane.
"What a time I have come, so much excitement," Khan told the Russian delegation waiting for him at the airport.
Russia would launch a formal invasion of Ukraine within hours.
Nearly a year later, Pakistan, which for years tried to improve ties with Russia and get access to Russian weapons, culminating in Imran Khan's Moscow visit, has had to change course dramatically, to the extent that it is now supplying weapons to Ukraine. Imran Khan, removed from power within months of his Russia visit, is calling for neutrality.
What changed Pakistan's calculus?
Be it the decision to bring back to life the 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Sajid Mir, who it claimed was long dead, or the choice to supply weapons to Ukraine, it is the looming threat of bankruptcy and default that has been driving Rawalpindi's decision making in recent months.
The ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia has pressured Europe and the United States to provide military support to Ukraine.
As the war continues, the Ukrainian forces need a steady supply of weapons and ammunition to push back the Russian assault. Recently, Pakistan has emerged as a potential source of these weapons.
Transport aircrafts of the United Kingdom have been spotted flying into Pakistan and then flying to countries neighbouring Ukraine. This suggests that Pakistan may be providing weapons to Ukraine through these flights.
The reason for Pakistan's involvement in this matter is believed to be linked to its own financial troubles and, to some extent, its relations with the United States, which it needs for economic support.
Until recently, Pakistan was on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list, a list of countries identified as having deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism regimes. As a result, it was struggling to secure an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.
However, late last year, the situation improved significantly. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto visited the US, and Pakistan was subsequently removed from the FATF grey list.
It is believed that Pakistan's removal from the FATF grey list and the release of its IMF funding package last year, was part of a quid pro quo between Washington and Rawalpindi. Moreover, the supply of weapons to Kyiv could be an extension of the deal as Pakistan continues to receive generous funding from the West in the name of fighting climate change.
The supply of weapons would not only help Pakistan financially, but it would also meet the West's commitment to providing weapons to Ukraine. This could be seen as a win-win situation for both Pakistan and the West, as Pakistan would be able to secure financial support while the West would be able to continue providing military support to Ukraine.
Such an arrangement would also give Pakistan some breathing space from the pressure India has been building on it to act against terror outfits through its partners like the United States. India was also the main driving force behind Pakistan's inclusion in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list, from which it has now been removed.
Recent events, such as the visit of a US envoy to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir late last year, and the approval of Pakistan's F-16 maintenance package, are examples of how this is playing out.
India may accept such an arrangement, given the difficult situation the West finds itself in, but it would not want it to become a permanent reality where Pakistan continues to enjoy a free run as it did in the past.
Although Russia is currently preoccupied with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, it is possible that they may view Pakistan's decision to support Ukraine's war efforts through weapons provision unfavourably.
It will not be surprising if Russia leverages its ties with the Taliban to create difficulties for Pakistan. In recent months, Pakistan's relations with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan have been rapidly deteriorating.
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