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Old Wednesday, November 14, 2012
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The new dynamics of Pakistan Russia relations



Russia has come to realize Pakistan's role in resolving the issues plaguing this region and Pakistan also seems to be contemplating on ways to lessen its reliance on America and to diversify its support base among the powerful states of this region.

On March 5th 2012, the news of Russian President Vladimir Putin's victory in Russian Presidential elections would have gone down well in Pakistani policy-making circles. It meant something more than just that, as Putin's victory signifies the continuity of the process of normalization of Pak-Russia relations, which have a background of hostility, suspicion and distrust.

Among the initial few calls that Mr Putin received after the victory, one was that of P.M Gillani; this goes on to show the extent to which Pakistani leadership was interested in the outcome of this election. Foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar's last month visit to Russia was also successful and has a bearing on this positive atmosphere in the mutual relationship. Finally, Russia has come to realize Pakistan's role in resolving the issues plaguing this region and Pakistan also seems to be contemplating on ways to lessen its reliance on America and to diversify its support base among the powerful states of this region.

At the time of the partition of India, the Soviet Union viewed both India and Pakistan with suspicion but it was more critical of India than Pakistan.The Soviets formally conveyed invitation to Liaquat Ali Khan for a state visit in 1949, but the tour did not materialize due to some considerations from Pakistan, and Liaquat Ali Khan chose to go to Washington instead in May 1950. Pakistan under the U.S influence joined SEATO and CENTO, thus by earning the ire of the USSR. There also happened incidents that added bad taste to already worsened relations like U-2 incident in 1960.

The ice begun to break in relations between Russia and Pakistan in Ayub Khan's presidency as on March 4, 1961, the Soviet Union signed an agreement on oil exploration with Pakistan. This was Pakistan's first acceptance of Soviet economic and technical assistance. The period from 1961 to 1971 saw ups and downs in Russo-Pakistan relations till the debacle of Bangladesh in which the Russians clearly sided with the Indians. Soon afterwards, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on assuming the reins of Pakistan as the PM took Pakistan out of alliances like SEATO and CENTO. Now that the impediments towards good relations were removed, both the countries undertook initiatives for a harmonious relationship. Pakistan and the USSR signed an agreement under which the Soviet granted technical and financial assistance for the construction of steel mill at Karachi which had the capacity of producing 2 million tons of steel per annum. The Soviet provided assistance in oil and gas exploration, and several power projects, including Guddu.

The period of Taliban in Afghanistan was a timely aberration when the relations again touched a low. But when Pakistan joined the international fight against terrorism in the wake of 9/11 incidents, Russia resolved to support Pakistan's efforts against terrorism.
The relations took a nosedive when President Zia took over: one, because of his adverse ideological thoughts about Marxism and socialism, secondly also because of Zia's covert help in Afghanistan against its fledgling socialist regime there. The bad relations between the both continued till almost the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan. But the relations became reasonable well when by the way of Geneva accord signed on April 14, 1988, Pakistan allowed a face-saving exit to Russia from Afghanistan. Russia also changed its policy towards the region by pursuing the policies of Perestroika and glasnost of internal restructuring its state and economy.

When the USSR disintegrated, Pakistan recognized Russian Federation on 20 December, 1991, as successor to the Soviet Union. The period of Taliban in Afghanistan was a timely aberration when the relations again touched a low. But when Pakistan joined the international fight against terrorism in the wake of 9/11 incidents, Russia resolved to support Pakistan's efforts against terrorism.

The dynamics of the renewed relations were set after the visit of the President Musharraf in 2003, Russian president Mr. Putin received Mr. Musharraf warmly and agreements of mutual benefit were signed. In 2007, the visit of Russian PM Mikhail Fradkov took the relations between the two to a new high. President Asif Ali Zardari also paid an official visit to Moscow in May 2011. In the November of the same year PM Gilani Also met Putin on the sidelines of SCO heads of governments meeting. Putin in 2011 endorsed publicly Pakistan's bid for SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) permanent membership. Russia has begun to hold Pakistan as an important player in bringing stability to the region. Pakistan can play a role for Russia in its quest for establishing good relations with the Muslim states of Middle East and South East Asia. The fresh momentum to this relation has been brought by the visit of the Foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Russia from Feb 7th to 9th. She was invited by her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

The recent historic low in Pak-US relations, according to some analysts has also been a cause of Pakistan's turning towards Russia. America's incessant blame game and defamation of Pakistan's army and intelligence agencies, coupled with US adage of do more against the militancy have seemingly turned Pakisan away from the US and towards Russia. But the recent urgency of Pakistan towards Russia may be because of May 2, 2011 US commando action that killed Osama Bin Laden which brought embarrassment to Pakistan and saw its sovereignty violated. The continual drone attacks, the incident of 26th November at Mohmand agency that saw the killing of 24 troops by the US gunship helicopters. Pakistan took a tough stand on this and cut off NATO supplies through its land, got vacated Shamsi Airbase from the US air force, boycotted second Bonn Conference on the future of Afghanistan. All this has contributed to this new strain in Pakistan's foreign policy. Russia also strokes the right chord when their foreign minister on 28th of November 2011, said that hunting terrorists cannot be a pretext for violating the sovereignty of a country.

Russia is being considered as a resurgent economic and military power which believes in multi-polarity, it simply wants to forestall American moves of hegemony in this region. Russia also thinks that Pakistan's role in the solution of Afghan Problem is crucial. Russia and Pakistan, in the recent meeting between the foreign ministers of the both countries, reaffirmed this contention that Afghan led and Afghan owned efforts for national reconciliation are necessary, so both are at the same page on this issue.
Russia also strokes the right chord when their foreign minister on 28th of November 2011, said that hunting terrorists cannot be a pretext for violating the sovereignty of a country.

Pakistan's interests are mostly domestic. Firstly, Pakistan wants Russian participation in Iran-Pakistan and CASA 1000 project, Russian Gas company Gazprom has showed interest in investing and participating in this project. Secondly, Russians have also shown interest in investment in Pakistan Steel Mills Karachi. Pakistan wants to make this mill profitable once again. Thirdly, it has been decided that parliamentary level interactions between both the countries will be carried out. Will this be a positive step towards people to people contact and would be a signal towards normalization of the relations, and Pakistan wants to ensure that it should happen. Fourthly, it was decided that the chambers of commerce and industries of the both would interact to improve the trade activity, and Pakistan wants to make that happen on a good scale. Fifthly, the Russian investors have agreed to invest in energy related projects like gasification of the Thar coal, and make it available for clear energy. Sixthly, Pakistan wants permanent membership of SCO and Russia alluded to support Pakistan's bid. Seventhly, Pakistan wants to acquire Russian help in quelling down the insurgency in Balochistan. So all these interests are domestic in nature with exception of Pakistan's desire for SCO membership, and Pakistan wants to work with Russia for the attainment of these goals.

As per the words of Tanvir Ahmad Khan, a former Pakistani foreign secretary and once Pakistan's ambassador at Moscow, both countries are on the verge of ending a long history of estrangement. But there have been external influences for this recent engagement between them. Nonetheless, both the countries also realize each other's centrality towards solution of the long standing issues in the region. The relations have grown to such a stage that there seems to be no going back and in the changed world like that of today the traditional rivalries of ideology have softened down. In the course of 64 years of Pakistan's independence, many opportunities of friendship and partnership with USSR have been missed and none of the countries can afford to miss yet another opportunity. This time around both seem to have realized it and both will make good of this opportunity.


Murad Kassi
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