A thaw in Pak-Russia relations

Pakistan, with its unique geographical location and its access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, has always attracted Russia. In 1949, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, extended an invitation to the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to visit Moscow. However, Khan opted to give them the cold shoulder and travelled to Washington instead, straining the relationship between the two nations for years to come. In the eighties, during the height of the Cold War, Pakistan once again sided with the US to fight against Russian forces that had invaded Afghanistan. These moves ultimately forced Russia to establish good ties with India.

The relations between Pakistan and Russia became friendly when Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov visited Pakistan in 2007. He was the first Russian PM to visit Pakistan in the post-soviet era. PM Mikhail and President Musharraf had productive discussions, and this visit laid the foundation for the subsequent relationship between Pakistan and Russia. In 2011, Vladimir Putin publicly endorsed Pakistan’s bid to join the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). In the same year, Russia condemned NATO drone strikes in the North-West region of Pakistan. In 2015, Russia signed a landmark deal in which they agreed to sell four Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan, as well as expressed its desire to invest $2 billion in the North-South gas pipeline project. Both countries also held two joint military exercises called ‘’DRUZBA’’, that were held in Pakistan in 2016, and Russia in 2017.

In recent times, whenever the US accused Pakistan of not playing its part in the eradication of terrorism, Russia came forward to negate the USA’s blame, with the Russian deputy minister expressing his appreciation for Pakistan’s efforts so far.

Since Pakistan and US are not currently on good terms, with the latter cutting the military fund they owed the former, Russia’s recent inclination towards Pakistan may be a good omen. The USA has halted joint military training programs aimed at training Pakistani army personnel, thus, Pakistan signed an agreement with Russia in August 2018 at their first JMCC (Joint Military Consultative Committee) meeting in Rawalpindi. During the discussion, both sides came to an agreement through which Pakistani troops will receive training at the Russian Military Training Institute.

In the last few years, Sino-Russian ties have scaled new heights of partnership. On the other hand, Pakistan’s relations with the US have soured, and in the same vein, the Americans have ignited a trade-war with China. This makes it inevitable that the three nuclear powers China, Russia, and Pakistan are going to band together, to fight against the US hegemony

A few incidents in the past have isolated Russia on many fronts. The Russian ex-spy poisoning scandal, the annexation of Crimea and meddling in the USA presidential elections are just some of the incidents that alienated them from the rest of the developed world. However, this isolation has drawn Russia closer to China. In the last few years, Sino-Russian ties have scaled new heights of partnership. On the other hand, Pakistan’s relations with the US have soured, and in the same vein, the US has ignited a trade-war with China. This makes it inevitable that the three nuclear powers China, Russia, and Pakistan are going to band together against US hegemony.

Pakistan is a victim of isolation as well, as its relations with its neighbouring countries are not conciliatory at the moment. Having been shown the ‘exit door’ by the US, Pakistan is looking for a replacement and Russia seems to be willing to fill that role. It is an oil and gas-rich country, with advanced defence technology, and even though they cannot compare with the US in both cases, it might be enough to fulfil Pakistan’s defensive and energy needs. Additionally, Russia also has influence over Central Asian states like Turkmenistan, and with Pakistan already looking to exploit this region, starting with the TAPI gas pipeline project; they could turn to Moscow to improve relations.

From the Russian perspective, this partnership could be more helpful as a boost to its economy. Russia always had the drive to control the Indian Ocean. With Pakistan as a partner (who may even agree to provide naval bases), Russia can become an influential presence in the lucrative Indian Ocean, and can challenge Indian and US power, together with Pakistan and China. With the Russian economy struggling at times, and Pakistan and China already at work on CPEC, the Russians will more than likely be interested in reaping some of the benefits of this vast project as well.

In recent times, Pakistan’s relations with Russia have become necessary for the betterment of both countries, to some extent. This partnership could be propitious for Pakistan due to the sheer size of Russia, which is the largest country in the world that shares its frontiers with 16 sovereign states, and a partnership could open a world of opportunities for Pakistan’s business community. Pakistan’s large population promises to do the same for Russian businesses, and their easy access to the Indian Ocean is also expected to be of strategic value to Moscow. The growing friendship between the two countries and China will also create an impressive deterrent to US influence and prove to them once and for all, that Pakistan is not dependant on US for anything.

The writer is a freelance columnist. The writer is an electrical engineer who is also a CSS aspirant. He Tweets at @iamusmanghani

Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2018.


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