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ہفتہ، 21 مئی، 2011

Pak-Russia geopolitical convergence

The visit of the President to the Russian Republic could prove to be a turining point in our approach towards our national economic and foreign policy. The begining of looking elswhere for dignified frindship and mutual help seems to have dawned. From day one, our president has been vocal about replacing aid with trade. It was due to his tireless efforts that last year the European Economic Summit waived the trade tariff for goods produced in Pakistan.

By Nadeem Hyder

There is no doubt that the dynamics of our region’s geopolitics is undergoing a profound change in the wake of growing unease and misunderstanding among the partners in the global war on terror in Afghanistan. The emerging regional security paradigm has necessitated the need for political forces within the country to rethink their strategy for preservation of the country’s territorial sovereignty. One must not ignore the location of the two other giants- Russia and China in this region, who have a great interest in the geopolitical and strategic developments in the region. Pakistan has always had very friendly, trustworthy and cordial relations with neighboring China. Since independence, the two countries have moved ahead on building this relationship into an all weather friendship.

However, relations between Pakistan and the former USSR have historically been cool, even antagonistic, especially during the decade of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and earlier due to Indo-Soviet friendship. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Russian Federation, relations have steadily improved, particularly in the economic field. Economic interaction has lacked behind the strong political desire to forge close relations. Despite huge potential, the annual bilateral trade turnover is a pitiful of less then a billion US dollars which is mostly in favour of Russia. Historically, Russia is a country which one can describe as a blend of cultures and religions. It is one of the world’s most diverse societies – with a population of 142 million and as many as 160 ethnic groups living there. After a decade of crisis in the 90s, Russia has bounced back. We must recognize that Russia is on its path to redefine its strategies in the region and one should not be surprised to see it playing a significant role in the happenings of the region. Russia has regained its strength under its new leadership of Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev.

 Rising oil prices, increased foreign investment, higher domestic consumption and political stability have bolstered the economic boom. Russia is the fastest growing economy in the G8, averaging 7% annually since 2003. After years of underachievement, Russia has now emerged as the world’s leading natural gas exporter and the second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia. Fuelled by oil revenues, it repaid its Soviet-era debt to Paris Club creditors and the International Monetary Fund. Pakistan has an important place in Russia’s foreign policy, being one of the major influential Muslim country. Pakistan’s foreign policy is now rightly gravitating towards Central Asia and close relations with Russia would pay us a rich dividend. Instituting a high-level dialogue on strategic and political issues and building up a mechanism to focus on economic cooperation through increased market access to Pakistani products in Russia and building connectivity in trade and energy sectors will benefit both the countries. Friendly and cooperative relations with Moscow will also assist us in securing full membership of the SCO and to open the door for significant economic activity with all Central Asian States, rich in oil and energy resources. In this drop back, President Zardari visited Moscow and met with the Russian leadership in order to enhance its political and economic relations with Russia. Although, it was a scheduled visit but, in the light of recent developments in the region, it has gained enormous importance. It was the first official visit of any head of state of Pakistan in the past 37 years that had been undertaken in the belief that time had come for the two countries to forget the legacy of the Cold War era and forge new relations for the benefit of their peoples and indeed for the benefit of the people of the region. During the visit President Zardari has very rightly said that there is no reason to remain mired in the distrust of the past. He pleaded for forgetting the past and arranging for the present to face the future. The future prosperity of the region lay in energy pipelines, railways and other connectivity project.

In this regard, the two sides expressed their keen interest in the implementation of projects related to the creation of a system to transmit electric power from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan (KASA-1000) and to the building of gas pipeline between Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan and India (TAPI). The $ 7.5 billion TAPI gas project will be a backbone for Pakistani industry and economy. In the 70s Russia’s cooperation for building the country’s only steel mill proved a milestone for economic relations between the two countries. Unfortunately, the spirit of cooperation could not be taken forward in the 80s and the later part of the last century.

The two countries also signed four MoUs in energy, investment, air services and agriculture cooperation, during the visit. MoU on cooperation in the key area of energy will provide for the roadmap to develop and operate oil, gas and coal industry. Hydro power generation is yet another area in which Pakistan can seek expertise from Russia. MoU on investment will facilitate the private sector of the two countries to benefit from the potential in trade among the regional countries. The President’s visit will promote greater understanding between the two countries and will help broaden and strengthen bilateral political, economic, security and cultural ties. Pakistan and Russia are in an extended region and their relationship is geo- political and geo- economical.

It is heartening to note that both President Zardari and President Medvedev emphasized the importance they attach to promoting stability and peace in the broader region and, in this regard, to continue to enhance contacts, consultations, cooperation and coordination between the two countries. Enhanced political interaction is the key to success in building a regional coalition which can address issues of peace and security. The visit of our COAS General Kayani to Moscow in 2009 and subsequently the meeting of Prime Minister Gilani with Russian leadership, on the side lines of SCO Summit in Dushanbe 2010, had set the pitch for the Presidential visit to this important country in the region. Bilateral relations between Russia and Pakistan can grow and strengthen further in all fields. There is a bright future for the relations of the two countries. More so, since in the current global and regional situation, the position and interests of Pakistan and Russia converge, Russia-Pakistan partnership and closer ties will not only be to the benefit of the two countries, but the entire region.
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