Pakistan-Russia Relations Challenges and Prospects

Pakistan-Russia Relations Challenges and Prospects

The bilateral diplomatic relations between Pakistan and former Soviet Union were established on May 1, 1948. Since the Russian Federation is the successor state of former Soviet Union, thus, there remained continuation of same diplomatic relations, after the disintegration of the latter in 1991. Pakistan, however, had to establish its diplomatic relationship with other newly-independent states (former Soviet states) afresh. Until Pakistan showed a leaning towards US-led West, there remained cordiality in the Pak-Russia bilateral relationship.

Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s visit to the United States in May 1951, showing an inclination towards capitalist bloc, was the first stumbling block in this relationship. Earlier, there arose a controversy that Mr Liaquat Ali Khan did not accept the invitation for the visit to Moscow rather he preferred to visit Washington, despite the fact that US invitation was received after that of USSR. However, decades after that visit there still exists a controversy among Pakistani diplomatic circles, whether there was really an invitation from the Moscow or there was just a message of felicitation on the eve of Pakistan’s first Independence Day i.e. 14th August, 1948.

Nevertheless, during the Cold War, Pakistani policies were pro-West and the Communist Soviet Union supported India, Pakistan’s eastern neighbour and rival in the region on all fronts—political, diplomatic, economic and military. Being a permanent member of the UNSC, Moscow had endorsed Indian stance on Kashmir at all international forums, particularly the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Resultantly, in spite of positive efforts by international community, the Kashmir dispute remained unresolved until today. Although, Moscow had the ambitions of reaching over to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea (Indian Ocean), from late 19th century, yet the decade of 1980s was the peak time where, this former superpower, for furthering its motives, physically invaded Afghanistan,. Since there has already been an atmosphere of strained bilateral relations between Islamabad and Moscow, therefore, Pakistan felt threatened for any Russian military campaign towards east (Pakistani territory). Then, there were evidences of Russian support of Baloch sub-nationalists, some of whom fled to Moscow. Under the fear of Russian military aggression as well as being a part of the Capitalist bloc, Pakistan fully backed the US-sponsored guerrilla war through global concentration of Jihadists (Muslim warriors), allowing the use of its soil, infrastructure, logistic support and sharing of intelligence.

Indeed, Pakistan had a genuine apprehensions against its neighbour, as it was marginalized by India with the backing of this superpower, thus it had to no option but to support the US. Though this is also a historical reality that the US provided military and financial assistance to Pakistan for the attainment of its strategic objectives; containment of Communism, rather for its own security against India. It is worth mentioning that Pakistan was admonished for using this weaponry, provided to it by the US during 1965 War. Later, the US stopped supply of the mush needed arms and spares to Pakistan, during the most crucial days of 1971 Indo-Pak War which ultimately resulted into its dismemberment. Moscow, however, fully supported India; militarily, diplomatically and economically. The saddest part of the story is that, barring some diplomatic initiatives, the Cold War era has been marked by tense relationship between Moscow and Islamabad.

Despite having a chill in the bilateral relationship, in 1958, Russia indicated its interest in providing economic and technical assistance to Pakistan in the fields of agriculture and for the control of frequent floods in Pakistan. Pakistan welcomed the offer and in the subsequent years, President Muhammad Ayub Khan visited Moscow in April 1965, the first-ever visit of a Pakistani head of the state, since Pakistan’s emergence in 1947. This landmark visit helped a lot in removing misunderstandings and paved way for furtherance of agreements on trade, economic cooperation and cultural exchanges.

After the 1965 Indo-Pak War, Moscow mediated the famous “Tashkent Declaration” in January 1966, bringing an end to the cataclysmic war between the two South Asian states. Diplomats and analysts opine that it was a golden chance for former Soviet Union to develop good relationship with Pakistan by brokering a just settlement of Kashmir dispute, thus creating goodwill for itself and between Pakistan and India forever. However, it was a lost opportunity for all the parties. In 1968, the former Soviet Prime Minister, Alexei Kosygin visited Pakistan and offered military and economic assistance, including limited supply of arms to Pakistan. The Soviet leader was highly impressed by the Pakistani hospitality and said,

“Relations between Pakistan and the Soviet Union are very good indeed and we should want more and more to strengthen and better them. There were many forces in the world which did not want to see friendship growing between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Pakistan. Pakistan would achieve great success in all spheres under the leadership of President Muhammad Ayub Khan……”

President Ayub Khan also remarked:

“Soviet Union is our next-door neighbour with which Pakistan had close friendly connections in the past……”
Russia and Pakistan have the unanimity of views on bringing regional peace, through restoration of normalization and stability in Afghanistan, following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
In the subsequent years, Soviet President, Leonid Brezhnev, also made an effort to convince Pakistan about his Asian Collective Security Treaty plan, which could not be materialized since China and India were also not in favour of such a proposal. To reciprocate Prime Minister, Alexei Kosygin visit, President General Yahya Khan visited Moscow in 1969; where a deal for the military cooperation (provision of helicopters) to Pakistan was signed.

Following its disintegration in 1971, Pakistan resorted to a major overhaul in its foreign policy and Premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto visited Moscow twice; March 1972 and October 1974. These visits paved the way for improved bilateral relations between Pakistan and former Soviet Union. With the desire to promote cordial bilateral relationship, Soviet Union, installed a steel mill at Karachi; a huge project pregnant with all possibilities to boost Pakistan’s economy.

Disintegration of former USSR in 1991, the successor state, Russia realigned its foreign policy and for the last couple of years, it has been re-asserting its global and regional position. Pakistan’s strategic and economic interests make Russia an important regional player which, in turn, regards Pakistan with greater interest in 21st century. Unfortunately, the later years, and particularly the decade of 1980s, witnessed lots of misunderstandings between Moscow and Islamabad.

If viewed from a realist perspective, most of misperceptions between Pakistan and Russia can be attributed to a strong Western influence on Pakistan, for the ultimate gain of anti-Communist bloc during Cold War, and even thereafter, for maintaining a status quo. In the first decade after the end of the Cold War, Pak-Russia bilateral relationship remained in the doldrums. Trust building required time while the phenomenon of India’s influence on Moscow is still there.

Following 9/11, when Pakistan supported international community in “War on Terror” Russian perception about Pakistan has changed. Former President Pervez Musharraf’s visit to Moscow in 2003, gave a new impetus to the Pak-Russia bilateral relations. Indo-US nuclear deal 2005 and strategic partnership between the two states further narrowed the gap between Russia and Pakistan. Pakistani efforts of bringing peace in Afghanistan eased the Russian worries towards Pakistan. Economic and trade opportunities for both sides also favour the development of bilateral ties.

In the contemporary world, Russia and Pakistan have the unanimity of views on bringing regional peace, through restoration of normalization and stability in Afghanistan, following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014. Under the changing regional and global scenario, a close cooperation between Russia and Pakistan on strategic and security issues is direly needed and it is vital as well for all regional players. There already is evolving a strategic partnership between China and Russia for the promotion of regional peace and to undo the global hegemony of an outside power. Apart from its close cooperation with China, Pakistan seeks Russian economic assistance in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI) and technological cooperation particularly in the field of energy.

Russia seems inclined to responding to these needs in addition to increasing the trade volume from current $600 million to $1 billion. It is true that trade, investment and interdependence are the forces for peace. Pakistan and Russia should sort out their future role to achieve peace in Afghanistan as early as possible. On its part, Russia should help Pakistan by investing in energy sector, steel mill, infrastructure development and agriculture, including water management. Pakistan should aim at making Russia a trading partner and supplier of military hardware for achieving diversity in all fields in the longer run. In August 2013, Pakistan and Russia conducted their first-ever strategic dialogue in Moscow, a huge step for the development of strategic partnership in the decades to come.
In fact, Moscow and Islamabad have many converging interests and objectives including regional security and stability, countering threats of terrorism, and curbing extremism in all forms and manifestations. Besides, controlling illicit arms trade, drug trafficking, money laundering, cross-border organized crime and establishing joint working groups on countering international terrorism and other emerging challenges confronting regional security are also desired forums. Apart from enhancing cooperation with Pakistan for bringing stability in Afghanistan, Russia should assess Pakistan’s transit capabilities, whose importance is undoubtedly gaining ground in today’s highly globalized and interdependent world. Despite mayhem in the bilateral relationship of Pakistan and Russia, during Cold War, today there exist greater prospects for converting the challenges into opportunities for a win-win situation.

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