General Kayani’s Russia Visit: A Paradigm Shift

The Soviet failure in Afghanistan due to Pakistan’s active support for the Afghan Jihad kept both the states locked in a state of continuous hostility, with the result that their relations were far from being normal for a long time.

In the inter-state relations, politics has made national interests dominant all other considerations. The same was true about the China-U.S. rapprochement in 1972, the U.S.-USSR detente during the Cold War when the U.S. and Russia came closer to each other. So the same is true about Pakistan’s warming up to the Russian Federation. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s recent visit to Russia has been breeding high expectations in various circles and many have already begun to interpret it as a paradigm shift that would give a new boost to relations of both the countries. Many events indicate a thrust to this shift in the modes of thinking in both the countries like the recent visit of Director General (DG) Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam to Russia in which he held extensive talks with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Fradkov. The talks were termed ‘fruitful’ by experts.

And there was a very important visit of COAS General Kayani in October 2012, his secound to Russia , the first being in year 2009. They were more of a sequel of visits by the air chief and also byPresident Asif Zardari, who visited Russia in May 2012.

Notwithstanding the present cuddling up of relations, there exists a history of hostility between both the countries. This featured Pakistan’s joining of the capitalist bloc in response to invitations from both the U.S. and Russia. Then it was Pakistan’s entering into the anti-communist alliances like SEATO and CENTO. This marked the beginning of the worsening of relations. Then there occurred the event of shooting down of a U2 spy plane by the Soviet Union, which had flown from Peshawar Air Base (Pakistan) in 1960. It was purported to be spying over the Soviet Union for the United States. Then, there came a bitter event of disintegration of East Pakistan in which the Soviet Union had openly backed the Indian Army to attack Pakistan. Lastly, the Soviet failure in Afghanistan due to Pakistan’s active support for the Afghan Jihad kept both the states locked in a state of continuous hostility, with the result that their relations were far from being normal for a long time.

As in international politics the ‘love and hate’ relationships are not permanent and such things are subservient to the clearly-defined national interests. Or, it can be put in this way that the real politic of today’s politics has forced yesterday’s foes to become allies of today. Such is the case with thaw in relations between Pakistan and Russia. There are some geostrategic interests of both the countries which can be fulfilled if they work in concurrence with each other. This detente between them may yield positive fruits on economic and social fronts, but that appears to be guided by strategic considerations. First, both of them have stakes in the Afghan endgame; both are neighbours and stakeholders in Afghanistan. Both want an Afghanistan free from the U.S. bases in future, especially in the wake of the U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement. This will allow and ensure presence of U.S. troops and security contractors in Afghanistan beyond 2014 — a scenario hardly acceptable to both Russia and Pakistan.

Secondly, the issues of distrust have now doubled with Vladimir Putin’s becoming President of Russia on May 7, 2012. Mr Putin, who previously served as president from year 2000 to 2008, did not have smooth experience with the Bush Administration because he supported the U.S. military action against Taliban in 2001. He went a step forward in appeasing the U.S. by supporting the deployment of the U.S. military units into Central Asia. He stressed better ties with NATO. When Bush decided to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Putin did not show reaction which apparently meant a kind of silent acceptance of the decision. But this time around he had taken over as the president, giving a thought that the U.S. had not responded in a manner it should have to his overtures. These issues would have certainly drawn Russia diplomatically closer to Pakistan.

Thirdly, if the alliance works, then Russia may respond positively by wishing India to stop fomenting unrest in Balochistan. Pakistan may respond by eliminating camps of the Central Asian militants living in tribal areas and the border lands.

 Russia has also shown its readiness to fund and provide technical assistance for the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.
 Fourthly, given Pakistan’s historically troubled relationship with the U.S. and the recent plunge in relations, it is seriously thinking of diversifying its relations with world powers. The U.S. does not prove to be a reliable source in military hardware for Pakistan, with China not being able to satisfy the military needs of Pakistan. So Pakistan has an urge to seek military hardware from Russia.

Fifthly, India is warming up to the U.S. and the latter is helping it in its nuclear technology and weaponry along with carrying out joint military exercises in Rajasthan. Last year a Russian commander, Alexander Postinov, on his visit to Pakistan discussed the possibility of holding joint military exercises and exchange of trainers and trainees.

They had strategic concerns which brought them closer. Aside from it, this alliance is likely to get on well with the economic front as well. Moscow has shown its willingness in connection with the modernization and sophistication of Pakistan Steel Mills, by increasing its capacity from 1.1 to 1.5 million tons and then up to 3 million tons. In the coming years, Russia intends to invest US$500 in Pakistan Steel Mills. Russia has also shown its readiness to fund and provide technical assistance for the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Now, it is up to the Pakistan government that it awards this contract to Russia’s oil and gas company Gazprom. These relations will promote and cement ties in the education and science sectors too.

Pakistani students can benefit from Russian universities if scholarships are awarded to them. Also, Pakistan can benefit from the Russian experience in space technology.

As discussed earlier Pakistan stands a good chance of getting Russian military hardware. The sale of Russia-made planes, like MI series, was stopped to Pakistan because of the Indian influence.

However, the recent thaw in relations may offer some chances on that front. The Pakistan army aviation uses mostly Russia-made MI-17 helicopters. It may also be able to enjoy an upgrade status with help from Russia. As such the Russian source can probably be a better option and alternative for Pakistan especially in view of the U.S. sanctions with regard to the F16 planes. The JF17 thunder-fighter jet production that Pakistan does jointly with China at the Kamra Aeronautical Complex is powered by Russian engines; and Pakistan and China seek to export the JF17 thunder-fighter jets.

Precisely, Pakistan has become tired of its arm-twisting by the U.S. Yet it hopes that the cushion in diplomacy this relationship is likely to incur to Pakistan will help soften the U.S. attitude towards Pakistan. Some quarters opine that the U.S. will be alarmed after this development and will also enter into lucrative deals that it has stuck with India. But this view still remains hazy.

Lastly, involving much of the expectations by this unison is something unrealistic. India still features prime in Russia’s strategic calculations. The trade of military hardware between the both is stupendous, and India is the biggest buyer of Russian arms, jet fighters, tanks, submarines and warships from Russia. Quite recently a nuclear-powered submarine, which is capable of going into deep waters and staying there, has been provided to India by Russia. The presumption that Russia will sacrifice its six-decade relations with India and sell most sophisticated weapons to Pakistan is something unrealistic. But this recent thaw at least suggests that things have started moving in the positive direction.

By: Murad Kassi

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