Resurgence of Pak-Russia Relationship in the Regional Context
The divergent past of Pakistan-Russia relationship is now witnessing the exercise of reciprocated understanding for the attainment of mutual future objectives. A 41 members delegation, led by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, visited Pakistan last month with an aim to discuss issues concerning both significant countries of their respective regions. This was the first ever visit by Russian defence minister to Pakistan since the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991. His vital visit resulted in a ‘Defence Cooperation Agreement’ between both the countries together with high profile consultations on mutual issues ranging from counter-terrorism to arms control and regional security. Earlier, Russia also hinted that it is to lift impediment on selling arms to Pakistan and serious considerations being made to deliver Pakistan MI-35 helicopters in a bid to strengthen Islamabad’s capacity to fight effectively against prevailing terrorism menace.
It was in the last year when Russian Army Chief Col General Vladimir V Chirkin came to Pakistan and discussed productive consultations with his Pakistani counterpart General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani. His visit was, indeed, marked as a breakthrough in the bilateral relationship, which was marred largely by Pakistan’s proximity to United States and Russian compliance with India. However, in the swift regional fluctuations and global challenges, Pakistan and Russia have redefined their engagements which can be seen by enhanced bilateral visits of high profile dignitaries.
Since 1947, Pakistan has never the luxury of cordial businesses with Russia primarily due to Pakistan’s penchant towards US led capitalist block and the Russian assistance to India in 1965 and 1971 during the Indo-Pak wars. The trauma of inhospitable relations deteriorated further after the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s (US backed) support to Mujahidin’s resistance against the oppressor. Even after Soviet collapse, friendship eluded Moscow and Islamabad owing to Russian continuous burgeoning defence associations with India together with its alignment to anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and on the other hand Pakistan’s policy towards Taliban and its post 9/11 readjustment with US in War against Terrorism. However, the apparently emerging new ‘Cold War’ in Europe, in the wake of Ukraine crisis, has intense strategic repercussions not only for European security and integration but also for other adjoining areas where Russia’s interests transect with those of the Europe and US. Moreover, India’s evolving defence and strategic relations with US and Indian sweats in Central Asia without taking Russian interests into account compelled Moscow to look for other available options in the region and Pakistan is not exclusion to that list. Russia has improved engagements with China, with whom Moscow had problematic past. Russian defence Minister Sergey Shoigu visited China in mid-November where he stated that both Moscow and Beijing are looking to form a collective security system in Pacific due to anxieties related to US attempts of strengthening its political and military influence in the region. Besides, Russia is trying to reshape nature of relationship with Middle Eastern nations, a region where it has limited reach and trade altogether. Gwadar port of Pakistan can be a best choice for Russian trade and arms export to this region.
Other than defence ties, Russia may well be looking to cement economic ties with Pakistan. After Western embargoes, oil and gas supplier companies like Rosneft and Gazprom are looking other markets to transport gas and oil, the capitals that generate substantial revenue for Moscow. While Pakistan is energy deficient country and although no such discussions or initiatives are taken at official level as yet but to rescue energy requirements, Pakistan can look towards Russian gas and oil. A Pak-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission, in a November 2014 meeting discussed various issues concerning energy and it was decided in talks that Russia will provide assistance in construction of LNG terminals and in the North-South Gas pipelines from Nawabshah to Gwadar. Russia has intended to build gas pipelines towards Pakistan and India and the already discussed TAPI project could have the additional Russian gas which would ultimately double the supply of gas to energy starving Pakistan and India.
As India is falling more close to the US orbit and signing numerous defence and nuclear deals with Washington, Russia turning its benign hand towards Pakistan. After getting assistance from China in nuclear field, Pakistan can expect the similar help from Russia if Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) lifts ban for providing nuclear reactors to non-members of NPT, anytime soon.
The year of 2014, which was initially regarded as the year by which US led NATO will be extracting forces from Afghanistan, carries real significance for Asia Pacific. However, Washington’s fresh ‘Security Agreement’ with newly elected President Ashraf Ghani, by which US/NATO to keep forces in Afghanistan beyond December 2014, viewed apprehensive by most regional countries and by Russia also. Because Moscow has large stakes embedded with Afghanistan and it sees its interests in jeopardy in any longer US stay there. It also contemplates Pakistan as a major partaker in the Afghan maze in existing scenario as well as after 2014. Thus, restoring a cordial working relationship and atmosphere with Pakistan is the primary task which Russia has to achieve if it wants an improved contribution, at least politically and strategically, in Afghanistan after US exit.
Underpinning a responsive rendezvous with Pakistan is a win-win synergy for Russia in the contemporary global circumstances. The long dream of reaching Middle East for trade purposes and for enhancing its arms sale in Gulf state is a motive that can be best met by incorporating Pakistani territory in future projections of Russia. Because it was the warm waters of South (as noted by several analysts), other than political purposes, that Russia had intended to reach in 19th century’s ‘Great Game’ and during its military maneuver in Afghanistan in 1980s. Pakistan should find realistic objectives for its new connections with Russia, develop sustainable ways to curtail its financial liability and install skillful diplomacy to take advantage of the evolving regional and global strategic realities with newly developing ‘sensitive’ relationship with Russia.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org