Expectations from energy-rich Qatar

Published: January 23, 2019

Prime Minister Imran Khan had a two-day visit of Qatar culminating yesterday. During the visit, Khan met Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, besides addressing Qatar’s business community as well as the Pakistani community. Khan was accompanied by his economic team — comprising Finance Minister Asad Umar, Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, PM’s Adviser Abdul Razak Dawood, Chairman Board of Investment Haroon Sharif and Chairperson of the Task Force on Energy Nadeem Babar — besides his Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The composition of the visiting delegation shows that the agenda of the visit was heavy on business, economy and investment.

The prime focus of the talks with Qatari rulers, though, was on availing an assistance package for Pakistan to meet its energy needs, similar to the ones obtained from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. What’s reportedly requested is a reduction in the price of LNG and its supplies on delayed payments under an existing 15-year supply contract that the previous Pakistani government, led by the PML-N, had signed with Qatar.

The contract — featuring the import of LNG by Pakistan at a price equivalent to 13.39% of the international benchmark crude oil price — had been bitterly opposed by the PTI while in the opposition, with Khan even calling it a mother of all corruptions, accusing the former Pakistani government officials of receiving kickbacks in the deal. Now leading the government, the PTI announced abiding by the 15-year contract before the PM’s visit to Qatar, as well as another 10-year contract with another supplier that formed the basis of finalising the LNG price — in what is seen as yet another U-turn by the ruling elite.

Qatar is regarded as the most advanced Arab state with a high-income economy, backed by the world’s third-largest natural gas and oil reserves. Besides, a 2.6 million-strong Qatar has a 2.3 million expatriate population which shows that the state is hugely dependent on foreign human resource and can help Pakistan with its unemployment woes. Pakistani rulers must not risk relations with such Muslim brotherly states for their petty internal politics.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2019.

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