Whether or not the foreign minister’s surprise Moscow visit primarily focused on generating requisite funding for the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, as speculated in sections of the press, remains to be seen. But there can be little doubt that Islamabad has finally requested friends in Russia to place energy at the centre of the ‘enhanced bilateral and trade ties’ posture. The timing is important.
Both Pakistan and Russia have incorporated a pronounced disregard for western sanctions as their respective equations with the US have worsened, the latter much more so. Islamabad has been more outspoken of its rejection of the ridiculous TAPI alternative to accommodate US apprehensions since the check-post attack that resulted in halting nato supplies into Afghanistan. Russia has been extremely critical of America’s influence near Moscow’s comfort zones ever since Putin chose politics of confrontation at the height of America’s Iraq misadventure. Now, with US-led pressure on the verge of cracking its crucial Iran-Syria alliance in the Levant-Persia sphere, the Kremlin seems again positioning to facilitate its falling allies where it can, and Iran’s business with Pakistan is mission critical for Tehran’s ayatollahs to make up, at least in part, for the sanctions choke-hold. So the rumours may well be true for once.
Interestingly, with the magnitude of spill-over costs of partnering with America becoming more evident with time, the government’s sudden tilt towards Russia is reminiscent of an old debate, one that featured intellectuals and workers of the then new Islamic Republic making a passionate case for siding with Russia just when the cold war was heating. Fast-forward half a century, and there’s still much to gain for both sides, albeit in a dramatically changed environment. Pakistan needs energy to forestall crippling economic collapse. Russia has just spent the last decade flexing its energy muscle to regain lost influence in Europe and beyond.
It’s very likely that a resurgent Putin, bitter at western actors for fanning discontent in his hinterland, will round off his Andropovian gambit – play Russia’s energy card – in a show of defiance marked by his return to the presidency. Pakistan stands to benefit in both energy and business terms. Surely the calculus with America is not reverting to widely accepted norms. To Russia then, with love?