Pak-Russia ties: prospects and challenges

History casts a long shadow

Pak-Russia relations are a saga of mistrust. There are three main periods in which a trust deficit was triggered between the two countries. The first period began in the 1960s when Pakistan decided to help the USA against the USSR by providing the former with intelligence and air bases for spying on the latter.  The U2 incident marked this period when a Lockheed U-2 Spy-plane was shot down in Soviet airspace in May 1960. Secondly, Pakistan’s bid to facilitate a rapprochement between the USA and China in the 1970s can be identified as the second period. In reaction to Pakistan’s policy, Russia signed a mutual-friendship treaty with India in August 1971. This treaty paved the way for assistance to India in the 1971 war.  Thirdly, the Pak-US alliance to counter the USSR following its invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s further added to distrust.

Moreover, the USA’s imprudent policy to turn back on Pakistan after the withdrawal of the USSR from Afghanistan and imposition of sanctions under the Pressler and Glenn amendments, left Islamabad bewildered.  USA’s ebbing and flowing relations spurred Pakistan to reconsider its policy towards Russia. Then, official visits to Moscow showed some semblance of proximity. Ayub Khan in 1965 and Nawaz Sharif in 1999 visited Russia but in June 2002 the Musharraf-Putin meeting at the Multinational Security Summit in Almaty made the institutionalization of relations possible.

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Pakistan and Russia have made considerable efforts to thaw the relations, especially in the last 15 years.  A recent visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has proved to be a positive omen in terms of bridging the gap.  He said that “we have provided 50,000 doses of anti-Covid vaccine to Pakistan and intend to provide 150,000 more”. He further mentioned that “both countries were considering a new protocol on the ‘stream gas pipeline project’”. He hinted at Russia’s desire to help Pakistan militarily.  He emphasized the significance of trade ties between both nations. He also stressed the need of increasing the Pak-Russia Trade by 46pc.

Conclusively, Pakistan needs to form economic relations with Russia because, in this age, only economic ties have the power to create mutual understanding and amicable relations among nations. In simple words, a state’s relevance is determined by the economy. Secondly, Pakistan should form relations with Russia based on realpolitik without expecting Russia’s support to solve the Kashmir issue Conclusively, Pakistan needs to form economic relations with Russia because, in this age, only economic ties have the power to create mutual understanding and amicable relations among nations. In simple words, a state’s relevance is determined by the economy. Secondly, Pakistan should form relations with Russia based on realpolitik without expecting Russia’s support to solve the Kashmir issue.

Along with economic relations, Russia can help Pakistan in various manners. Firstly, When US President Donald Trump restricted Pakistan from participating in  the International Military Education Program; Russia took advantage of the situation and inked a ‘Security Training Agreement’. That agreement helped Pakistani military officers to get training in Russian institutions.  Pakistan’s joining Russian military institutions can prove to be an appropriate alternative to the USA and it will have an impact on the strategic thinking of the Pakistani military because institutions shape the way of thinking.  Secondly, Pakistan can learn the strategies to counter hybrid warfare from Russia because Russia has a good understanding of hybrid warfare. Russian General Valery Gerasimov is known as an architect of hybrid warfare in Moscow. Thirdly, Russia can help Pakistan in enhancing its energy output. Islamabad wants to establish business ties to acquire nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, and technical assistance from industrial nuclear suppliers. Pakistan wants Nuclear Supplier Group Membership to achieve nuclear legitimacy in the world. Pakistan emphasizes a criterion-based approach to membership but France, the UK and Russia favored the merit-based approach. Russian Embassy officials in Islamabad hinted at a policy shift from backing the merit-based to backing the criteria-based approach. Russia’s support to Pakistan in achieving NSG membership will be a great step towards amicable ties.

Palpably, Russia’s attempt to gain ground in South Asia and to get proximity to Pakistan is not free of challenges. According to some analysts, Russia can have three main challenges in South Asia.  First is India’s changing equation with Russia and her dependence on the USA.  Second is Russia’s challenge to walk a tightrope for keeping the balance between Pakistan and India. Indeed, Moscow cannot afford to abandon India despite the latter’s changing preferences because of the size of the market it provides. On the other hand, mistreating Pakistan will be tantamount to damaging its newfound interests.

The third is the sprawling influence of China in South-East Asia, its proximity to Pakistan, and the BRI project. ll of which are attracting Russia. As Pakistan is deemed as a major player in the BRI project, it has unavoidable importance.  Russia is interested in becoming a part of CPEC.

Furthermore, there are some areas of divergence which have the potential to mar the establishing of relations. First, Russia is not comfortable with Pakistan’s support to jihadists in Kashmir and Afghanistan.  Pakistan’s commitment to eradicate violent forces will serve Pakistan’s as well as Russia’s interests.

Secondly, Russia does not see India as a trouble maker in Afghanistan that will not be in favor of Pakistan’s interests. Thirdly, there are remote possibilities of Russia’s support to Kashmir’s cause as it can be a blow to his relations with India. Fourthly, Russia will not downgrade its defense and trade ties with India. It is also contrary to Pakistan’s objectives.

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Last but not least is the uncertain relationship between Pakistan and the USA. History shows that when the USA left Pakistan the latter resorted to Russia. It leaves a negative impression on Russia because it suggests Russia is less important to Pakistan than the USA.

Conclusively, Pakistan needs to form economic relations with Russia because, in this age, only economic ties have the power to create mutual understanding and amicable relations among nations. In simple words, a state’s relevance is determined by the economy. Secondly, Pakistan should form relations with Russia based on realpolitik without expecting Russia’s support to solve the Kashmir issue. Without over-expecting and with a deep understanding of mutual interests, Pakistan should try to bridge the gap.  Thirdly, Pakistan should not overlook Russia as it is a major player in the region. Here Pakistan needs bilateralism to keep a balance between Russia and the USA.

Wali Ejaz Nekokara
The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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