The relationship between Pakistan and Russia has been under stresses and strains for rather a longer period of time. Especially during the days of the Cold War, the relations were at their lowest ebb. The bilateral ties got an inauspicious start with the former Soviet Union eschewing sending the customary words of felicitation on Pakistan’s emergence as an independent country on the world map. Aggravated even further by the former’s grim apathy to reciprocate the latter’s initiative to open up its embassy; both the countries took each other’s movements with a pinch of salt.
Russia smelled in the birth of Pakistan a well-devised British imperialistic manoeuvre to perpetuate its sway over the Indian subcontinent. Realistically speaking, the Soviet Union initially looked down upon India and Pakistan alike with a sense of scepticism. Pakistan, on the other hand, pursued the policy of staying away from the USSR for reasons hardly ignorable to a sane mind. On the first count, the ideology of communism was decried in Pakistan as antithetical to Islam. The religious right and the establishment were ill at ease among the eddies of Russian communists who avowedly pledged to transport the Marxist ideology far and wide so as to bring all the countries under ‘Russian demesne’.
Secondly, Pakistan felt an existential threat to its security sensing ‘Czarist designs’ to gain access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.
Thirdly, having recently brought down the monster of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the USSR was terribly sapped of its resources resulting in a sagging economy, though its military might increased manifold at the end of the war. However, it was not in a position to afford any aid and assistance which Pakistan was in crying need of.
Invitation to PM Liaquat Ali Khan
Different accounts in the form of conspiracy theories prevail on the political horizon as regards the PM Liaquat Ali Khan’s declining of Russian invitation of visit, and subsequently flying to Washington. The official account goes that the PM had himself evinced his desire to visit USSR, but the date (14th of August) which the Russian government wanted to fix up was a matter of inconvenience. Thus, the visit got delayed.
However, as per different analyses by seasoned diplomats, it was only in the wake of President Truman’s invitation to Nehru that both Pakistan and Russia made a bid, albeit only lukewarm, for bilateralism. But as a matter of fact, both the countries had their own axes to grind. On the part of Pakistan, Liaquat’s willingness to visit Moscow was well calculated to signal to the US its failing to appreciate Pakistan whereas the USSR sought to counter America’s wooing of India by entertaining Pakistani ventures of friendship.
At home also, Pakistan was facing right-left divide. The progressive and leftist elements were singing paeans to the Marxist precepts of egalitarianism, objurgating the monster of capitalism for unleashing immense sufferings unto mankind, and which they saw as a neo-imperialistic devise contrived by the western powers especially the US for enslaving the nations. Contrary to this notion, there was a camp of religious right whose tilt was heavily toward the US only because of their denunciation of Russian communism.
Early Attitude of Soviet Union
As said, right from the beginning, the relations between Russia and Pakistan were devoid of any amity. On the issue of Kashmir, initially, the USSR threw its whole weight behind India, shrugging off the issue as already having been decided by the Kashmiris to stay with India. When Pakistan joined western defence agreements, SEATO and CENTO (Baghdad Pact), the USSR signalled its strong disapproval; warning Pakistan of serious repercussions on the bilateral ties.
Although the Soviet Union aligned itself with India at the expense of Pakistan, it actually did not want Pakistan to get off the Soviet orbit of influence.
In 1961, it provided a huge loan of around 30 million rubles to Pakistan for its oil exploration programme. Even before that, it had expressed its willingness to provide technical know-how for the peaceful purposes of atomic energy and other support to Pakistan that would help fix its economy.
In 1965, President Ayub Khan visited Moscow. For a brief spell, there appeared to be some bonhomie in both countries’ relations. Moscow also relaxed its extreme posture it had previously taken on the issue of Kashmir calling upon both India and Pakistan to cut a deal with each other for the amicable resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Both the states also entered into Air Agreement, and Barter Trade Agreement.
During the Sino-Indian War in which Pakistan stood by China, the relations between Pakistan and Russia deteriorated, however not to the extent of total collapse.
The USSR during Indo-Pak War 1965
When the war between India and Pakistan broke out in 1965 the USSR adopted a balanced approach, demanding both the parties to exercise restraint and go for a ceasefire. By then, even if it had hardened into a close ally of India, it intervened in favour of none.
In May 1966, it extended to Pakistan an aid of about $80 million for economic and technical assistance. Nevertheless, conspiracy theories were widely floated that it was the Soviet Union that coerced President Ayub into giving unconditional concessions to India by signing the Tashkent Declaration. The Tashkent agreement, which otherwise could have come handy in extracting from India many a concession, dealt a severe blow to the cause of Kashmir.
Again, in 1968, the Soviet aid to Pakistan flowed hugely in the form of arms supplies, etc.
Soviet Role in 1971 War
The Indo-Pak war of 1971 bedevilled the course of their relations more than anything else. Not only did the USSR afford its full-fledged patronage to India from behind the curtain, but also held back Pakistan’s allies — the US and China — from intervening, warning them of dire consequences.
Post Indo-Pak War Scenario
When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sworn in as the new premier, he directed his full attention to fixing up Pakistan’s external relations with the major powers as well as the neighbouring countries. He flew to Russia, and held negotiations with the Russian leadership. During Bhutto regime, there ushered in an era of close economic and technological cooperation between the two countries, unparalleled in their history. Pakistan Steel Mills accompanied by a number of thermal power plants were major outcomes of this historic breakthrough.
Nonetheless, this thaw in the bilateral ties again proved ephemeral. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in 1979, and Pakistan’s Afghan Jihad policy screwed their relations up a good deal. Whilst Moscow wanted Islamabad to revisit its policy keeping the Russian interests in view, Pakistan was horrified by what it perceived as the potential Soviet threat to its own integrity. By the time, the rumours abounded that Russia might lead a siege of Pakistan. The USSR predicated the totality of bilateralism on Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan vis-à-vis the USSR, Islamabad was left with the Hobson’s choice regarding its robust policy of baking up the Afghan Mujahideen being patronized by the US to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
Post- USSR Scenario
After the disintegration of the USSR, the new leadership in Moscow took up their foreign policy goals with a renewed outlook. As Pakistan recognized Russian Federation as the successor of the bygone USSR, the latter reciprocated the goodwill gesture by seeking to espouse a balanced approach toward Pakistan. The exchanges of visits by political dignitaries took place, thus facilitating the congenial milieu for the mutuality of relations. For the first time Russia attached an independent significance, exclusive of India to its mutual relations with Pakistan.
Convergence of Interests
The Cold War rival states have been on seesaw terms based on the hit-and-miss bilateralism. But, they fully appreciate the convergence of their interests on more than one front. They share a commonality of interests in Afghanistan because a troubled Afghanistan will have turmoil spill over to their respective lands.
Pakistan appreciates the role Russia can play for peace, stability and advancement of Asia, especially South Asia. The above very reasons account for Pakistan’s soliciting of Russia but at the same time, it draws a line to be taken in the Russian foreign policy solemnly, exclusive of India. Russia’s deeply-entrenched alliance with India must not impact the conduct of its bilateral dealings with Pakistan.
Recently, joint military exercise ‘Friendship 2016’ has given a reinvigorating boost to the Pak-Russia bilateralism. The seismic event has some historic consequences for the regional politics. First, the news has it that India did what it could to prevail upon Russia to call off its joint military exercise with Pakistan, citing “well-known sensitivities”. It made its priorities clear to Russia to choose between India and Pakistan. Thus, politically and diplomatically, it is Pakistan’s triumph. It bespeaks of a major strategic shift in the region, and the fact that Pakistan has bolstered its place rather well in Russia.
Secondly, it reflects the Russian fascination for Pak army’s counterinsurgency operations. Let the maxim govern the course of our foreign policy: There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests. In view of the visibility of the cracks in the Indo-Russian relations, Pakistan needs to take the Cold War adversarial ties beyond to the heights of bilateral bonds, utilizing this breakthrough for maximum enhancement of cooperation between Russia and Pakistan.