Relation between Pakistan and the former USSR have histroically 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.
In the cold war period relations between Pakistan and the ex-USSR remained unfriendly because in 1954 and 1955 Pakistan had joined US led anti-Soviet military alliances called SEATO and CENTO.
Later although Pakistan had left SEATO and CENTO in 1974, in 1980s it again organized US sponsored guerilla resistance against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan till USSR withdrew its troops in 1989. After end of the cold war and disintegration of the USSR in 1991, over time, as a successor state, Russia has consolidated its politico-economic and military status as a major word power. Therefore in the light of changing regional environment and with a view to advancing its strategic and economic interests, Pakistan considers Russia is an important country. Likewise, in the post cold war regional scenario, Russia is also interested in improving its relations with Pakistan. Russia and Pakistan’s desire to develop closer bilateral relations has been further intensified due to their converging interests as a consequence of witnessing experience of ten years war on terror being fought in Afghanistan and necessity of making joint efforts to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan after withdrawal of ISAF and NATO forces by 2014.
In the first decade after the end of the cold war although bilateral visits with suitable intervals remained a regular feature, progress on advancement of mutual relations remained sluggish. Probably trust building was taking time. However the event of 9/11 and Pakistan’s decision of abandoning Taliban and joining war on terror as a front line state altered the whole scenario and Russian perceptions about Pakistan’s role in the region started changing for better. Due to this change, bilateral diplomatic contacts increased and mutual relations started warming up. A major development in bilateral relations was the visit of the then President Pervez Musharraf to Russia in 2003. This land mark visit and President Musharraf’s earlier meetings with Russian President, Validimir Putin at Almaty and Kuala Lumpur, greatly helped in building mutual trust and confidence. President Musharraf’s visit was followed by the visit to Pakistan of Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov in July 2004. Also, a delegation of Russian Duma visited Pakistan the same year. As a result of improved relations Russia also supported Pakistan’s entry to the SCO as an Observer. Latter, Indian nuclear deal and agreement of strategic partnership with the US further helped in opening up Russia towards Pakistan. In 2005 both countries’ presidents met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session and heads of governments met in Moscow during the SCO Heads of Government meeting.
In 2oo6, mutual high level contacts continued. Apart from meetings of both countries’ officials, at higher level, the two presidents also met on the sidelines of the SCO meeting in June 2006 and both heads of government met on the sidelines of next SCO summit in September 2006. In 2007 Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Fradkov visited Pakistan (first visit of a Russian Prime Minister in 38 years) and held in depth discussions with President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz with emphasis on advancing economic cooperation.
In November 2007 Pakistan’s Petroleum Minister visited Moscow and signed an MoU on collaboration in joint exploration of oil. As a result of improvement in the relations, with the Russian support, Pakistan has already joined SCO as an Observer. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Kayani’s visit to Moscow in 2009 and subsequent meetings of former Prime Minister Gilani with the Russian leaders on the sidelines of SCO Summit in Dushanbe in 2010 had paved the way for the Presidential visits in the ensuing years. In 2011 both countries initiated the discussions on the shape of proposed free trade agreement and currency swap arrangement to be signed to boost bilateral trade and further strengthen their economic relations.
In 2011, Russia’s Prime Minister, Validmir Putin publically supported Pakistan’s desire of joining of SCO as a full member. Also, stating that Pakistan was very important partner in South Asia and Muslim world for Russia, he offered to help Pakistan in expansion of Karachi steel mill and provision of technical assistance for the Gaddu and Muzaffargarh power plants. To help Pakistan in resolving its energy shortage Putin also indicated his desire for developing the Thar Coal Project. Russia’s desire for warming of its relations with Pakistan has also grown probably because India has moved much closer to the US in the light of its agreement of strategic partnership with the sole super power. President Asif Ali Zardari visited Russia in September 2011 which created further goodwill. In 2012, as stated by Stephen Blank of Strategic Studies Institute, “Pakistan and Russia has covertly developed geopolitical and strategic relations behind the scenes of the world politics since Russia has concluded that in the wake of withdrawal of NATO- lead ISAF and US forces by 2014, Pakistan will be a crucial player in Afghanistan and hence speeded up advancement of relations with this country”
Russian President Mr. Putin was scheduled to have a land mark visit to Pakistan in October 2012 but it was suddenly postponed. However, visits of Pakistani and Russian Officials which took place immediately after cancellation of Russian President’s visit to Pakistan helped in allying any misperceptions in this regard. Firstly, Russian high powered delegation visited Pakistan and signed three important MoUs on expansion and modernization of Pakistan Steel Mills, cooperation in the Railways and in energy. Secondly, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani visited Russia as per his schedule in the First Week of October 2012 and held meetings with Russian Army top brass and the ruling politicians. Also, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov visited Pakistan in First Week of October 2012. He held meetings with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister and also called on the Prime Minister.
The mere fact that Lavrov planned his visit to Pakistan after cancellation of Presidential visit just at two days notice after rescheduling his planned visit to India on 4 October 2012 and his cabinet colleague, Anatoly Serdyukov, the Defence Minister postponed his planned visit to India to meet General Kayani, who was to visit Moscow on same dates indicates that cancellation of Putin’s visit to Pakistan was not meant to undermine the improving Pakistan-Russia relations. Supporting Pakistan’s stance on drone attacks Lavrov declared that they violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any state and are unacceptable.
His statement that Russia favours solution of Afghan issue which is home grown also coincides with Pakistan’s position on the issue. Mr Lavrov also stated that Russia attaches great importance to consultation with Pakistan and is looking forward to Pakistan’s participation in the next SCO Summit, in Kyrgyzstan. Analysts believe that since Russia realizes that any successful resolution of the issues associated with Afghanistan must involve Pakistan, cancellation of Putin’s visit to Pakistan cannot change the relevance of this argument or of Russia’s objective of advancing relations with Pakistan.
Even some Indian scholars are convinced that Pakistan- Russia relations will grow because being a close neighbour to Afghanistan Pakistan is being considered by Russian leaders as a strategic pivot in the region. The preceding analysis therefore suggests that Pakistan-Russia relations will continue to move forward in the coming years and both countries are visualizing lot of strategic and economic gains in developing closer relations in the emerging regional scenario. Russia has already shown its interest in investing in mega projects in Pakistan.
Russia sees Pakistan as a big market for its engineering exports and working on energy projects since in view of its acute energy issue Pakistan is also ready to work with Russia. In the wake of many regional geo-political and geo-strategic changes which have and are taking place and with a view to addressing issues of its internal instability and deteriorating economic position, it considers that Russia can play an important role in these areas and also in attaining an early peace in Afghanistan and in resolving Pakistan- India disputes.
Russia’s role is more important in view of US constraints of providing the required political, economic and military assistance to Pakistan due to pressures of strategic partnership with India, US congressional activism conditioning provision of assistance to Pakistan with its performance in war on terror and US financial crises at home, and therefore Pakistan wants to diversify its sources of assistance by befriending Russia. And in this regard Russia appears to be willing to assist Pakistan in many ways to share burden of China who is already providing the much needed critical assistance to Pakistan in various strategic, military and economic areas. Hence it is in Pakistan’s interest that it has to take some major initiatives to speedily improve relations with Russia including early materialization of its President’s visit to Pakistan.
By Colonel (R) Muhammad Hanif.
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