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Are Pakistani fighters heading for Ukraine to combat Russian forces?

Pakistan has been accused of selling weapons including Multibarrel Rockets (above) to Ukraine

On July 14 evening senior Pakistani journalist Haroon-ur-Rasheed dropped a bombshell – he said that a respected former Pakistani General told him that Pakistan may soon recruit fighters for Ukraine to combat Russia. The revelation comes as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is set to visit Pakistan on July 20. Speculations are he will plead and press Islamabad for “assistance” in the Ukraine war.

The explosive news has also come amid widely reported information that Pakistan is sending regular supplies of various kinds of ammunition to Ukraine in exchange for a “US-brokered” grant of $3 billion IMF fund and delisting of Islamabad from the Financial Action Task Force’s “Grey List”.

Rasheed, who is considered one of the most credible voices in Pakistan and is close to former Prime Minister Imran Khan, said that he met the former General at Khan’s residence in Zaman Park, Lahore. He added that the General told him that recruits may be paid a stipend of $3300 for their services and that they would be posted on the 2nd line of defence. “At this, I retorted that why would they post these soldiers at 2nd line of defence, they would be posted on the 1st line of defence. Ex-military man nodded his head,” Rasheed said in his broadcast.

Talks of Pakistan sending its mercenaries to Russia under American pressure with the lure of quick money to unemployed youth in its cities and rural hinterlands has been abuzz in local Pakistani media and political circles. However, it has been ensured that no such discussion takes place in mainstream or even popular private media.

Rasheed’s revelation is the first instance when Pakistan’s covert intent has been exposed.

This correspondent tried to know the same from the offices of Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, his deputy Hina Rabbani Khar and Pakistani foreign office spokesperson Ambassador Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, but no response was received till the writing of this report.

Meanwhile, a senior Dubai-based journalist who covers strategic affairs in South and West Asia and keeps in regular touch with Pakistani foreign office said that “a proposal for recruiting local youths for fight in Ukraine” has been mooted from some western nation and that the current government (which will demit office in middle of August) and the military leadership has not responded being fearful of the Russia-led diplomatic backlash and the public anger at home.

Pakistani Arms to Ukraine

Reports claiming that Pakistan has been providing ammunition to Ukraine have regularly surfaced in the media since the middle of the last year, especially January 2023 onwards they became ubiquitous.

France 24 had in February reported that “run-down ammunition supplies are one of Kiev’s most pressing concerns, with Ukraine and its partners resorting to far-flung countries like South Korea and Pakistan as sources of artillery munitions”.

A report published in The Economic Times in January 2023 alleged that Pakistan planned to dispatch 159 containers of ammunition, including projectiles and primers, to Ukraine via a port in Poland in return for Ukrainian assistance to upgrade its Mi-17 helicopters. According to the report, “Islamabad-based arms supplier DMI Associates is working in collaboration with defense firms in Eastern Europe for transferring orders placed by the Ukrainian military.” Another report claimed that Pakistan is supplying weapons to Ukraine under a quid pro quo deal between Washington and Islamabad. According to the alleged deal, Pakistan was removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s “Grey List” and the International Monetary Fund released funding to Islamabad in return for supplying weapons to Kyiv.

It is known from media reports that Islamabad is ready to export Anza Mark-II man portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to Ukraine via Poland. It has been reported that Pakistani and Polish companies Millennium Technologies (Karachi) and Omida Sea and Air (Gdynia) have agreed on the issue of transportation.

According to reports, the UK Ministry of Defense also entered into an agreement with the Pakistan Ordnance Board for the supply of arms to Ukraine.

In April in an interview with BBC, the commander of the 17 tank battalion of the Ukrainian army talked about receiving rockets from other countries including Pakistan.

In June, the Economic Times reported that a consignment of weapons made in Pakistan’s Ordnance Factory was being sent to Ukraine via Jordan and Poland through a US-flagged ship. The weapons were shipped from the Aqaba Naval Base in Jordan to the Polish port of Gdańsk, from where they were handed over to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Items shipped through Jordan and Poland include air defence vehicles, multiple barrel rocket launchers, recovery vehicles, ammunition, and spare parts.

But the Pakistan Foreign Office has strongly rejected claims of providing any ammunition to Ukraine in its ongoing conflict with Russia, insisting the country maintained a “policy of strict neutrality.”

“I would reiterate what we have said in the past from this podium. Pakistan maintains a policy of strict neutrality in the dispute between Ukraine and Russia and in that context, does not provide any ammunition to them,” foreign office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told a weekly news briefing, as reported by the Express Tribune.

“However, we must realise that in the past, Pakistan has had strong defence ties with Ukraine. We have also said and I reiterate again, that Pakistan’s defence exports are always accompanied with strict end user requirements and we hope those end user requirements would be fully respected by recipients,” she added while hinting at the possibility of the Ukrainian military using the Pakistan ammunition provided earlier.