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ہفتہ، 27 اپریل، 2013

Realism in Pakistan ties with Russia

Over the past ten years Pakistan and Russia have covered a long distance in trying to come closer to each other. The continuation of this pro-active approach will further strengthen their bilateral bondage. In post-2014 scenario the cementing of ties between the two will be even more pronounced.

With the collapse of Soviet Union on 26 December 1991, the world order transformed from bipolar to uni-polar. Francis Fukuyama - the leading US contemporary philosopher of liberal school of thought - denoted the moment as “the end of history - end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy.”

On their domestic front, the post-Soviet Russian Federation - legal heir of former USSR - has always been in search of its lost identity and renewed role in the world politics. Over the past decade, Russia has shown palpable signs of resurgence on international arena, but the length of distance they have covered is worth inquiring, both in liberal and realist paradigm. 

The contemporary realists - like Azar Gat and Robert Kagan denote Moscow's recent re-emergence as “the end of the end of history.” Robert Kagan echoed his views in his 2008 book, “The Return of History and the End of Dreams”, who's title was a deliberate rejoinder to “The End of History.”

A realist evaluation of the whole phenomenon is also significant from Pakistani perspective so as to revisit the history of Pak-Russia bilateral relations and explore new windows of opportunities in the changing global scenario.

Realists argue that the history of ancient Czarist Russia exposes two prominent trends: ideology and expansion. From 1922 to 1991, the basic character of Soviet foreign policy (Marxism-Leninism) was based upon Vladimir Lenin's “Decree on Peace” of 1917 which encompasses both proletarian internationalism and peaceful coexistence. The element of proletarian internationalism, though, gradually faded away but the component of Marxism-Lenin ideology always remained a dominating factor in its foreign policy. Moreover, the traces of Soviet history also show its natural instinct of geographical expansion. Beginning in 1533, the Soviet border stretched to Pacific Ocean in 1689. By the end of 19th century, Soviet imprints were found touching the Afghan borders. Finally in 1979, the Soviet quest for warm waters compelled her to commit the strategic blunder of invading Afghanistan.

The Russian intelligentsia in the post-Cold war era identifies three major trend groups in their society defining various courses of action in Russian foreign policy: (1) Liberal Westernists, while presenting idealist view of international relations, believe in close relations with the West and advocate free economic liberation and market economy; (2) Fundamental Nationalists, conversely believe in the legacy of their lost national pride and Marxism-Leninism ideology, and propose means to create a greater Russia, envisioning a rebirth of Soviet Union; and (3) Pragmatic Nationalists - following a balanced approach -suggest bridging the gap between the East and the West while securing Russia's interests and identity.

The evaluation of Russian thinking process after the fall of the Soviet Union - especially since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 - revolves around three enduring Foreign Policy Strategic Objectives: (1) strengthening and controlling the Russian state and politics; (2) creating economic growth and structure of the Russian economy; (3) establishing Russia as a power player in international affair.

As a regional power, Russia's South Asian policy attributes: (1) its quest for warm-water ports; (2) the China factor; and (3) countering US regional interests. In pursuit of its regional objectives, Russian foreign policy - both during and after the cold-War - has always been India centric. The depth of Soviet-Indian strategic partnership can be judged from Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971 and Soviet support to India in Indo-Pak War-1971.

Pak-Russia relations - in a realist paradigm - have always suffered from trust deficit. Their history is simply a tale of misperceptions and lost opportunities. In 1947, Pakistan at the time of its inception, decided to join the US block ignoring the next-door Soviet Union. One can make a number of arguments for and against the decision but analyzing it from hindsight, one can conclude that the Pakistani elite did not conduct correct 'cost-benefit' analysis under Max Weber Rationality Model.

Certain external contraptions have also been detrimental to working relations between Islamabad and Moscow. Amongst all, the US factor in Pakistan's foreign policy has been significantly pronounced. Pakistan has always fought a proxy war safeguarding the U.S. interests against the USSR. In 1959, Pakistan signed an accord with America to counter communist intimidation on its western border. In 1962, the Soviets captured a U.S. spy plane. The pilot revealed that the aircraft had taken off from the Badaber Airbase, Peshawar. It is related that the furious Soviet leader, Khrushchev, circled Peshawar red on map. The initial preference of joining the U.S. camp, subsequent signing of West's security system (SEATO-1954 and CENTO-1955), and finally as frontline ally during the Afghan war (1979-89), never allowed Islamabad to formulate an independent policy towards Moscow.

India has always been a pre-dominant factor in Pakistan's foreign policy. Despite having no bilateral disputes both Pakistan and Russia had viewed each other through external perspective - Russia with American and Pakistan with Indian lens. Pakistan also failed to strike a balance of its ties with both the superpowers which India successful maintained.

Conversely, in the post-Cold War and post-9/11 eras, leadership in both the states has shown positive indicators. Pakistan due to its geostrategic location and its role in international arena is a important country and cannot be ignored by great powers. The Indian factor in Pak-Russia ties is no more conspicuous.

The period of Afghan War (1979-1989) was the worst in the history of both nations. Even after the war, there was no much warmth in their relations due to Taliban factor in Pakistan's foreign policy. However, in the post-9/11 epoch, Pak-Russia relations have shown some improvement. As the U.S. led NATO forces are planning to leave Afghanistan in 2014, the role of both Pakistan and Russia will be even more meaningful in Afghan security in particular and for the whole region in general.

In the past one decade, there have been numerous positive signals of melting ice. Some of the upbeats include: Visit by President Pervez Musharraf in Feb 2003 - first by a Pakistani President in 33 years; Russian facilitation on grant of Observer's status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2005 and Pakistan's reciprocal gesture of helping Russia in getting Observer's status at the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC); Prime Minister Mekhail Fredkov's visit (Apr 2007) - the first by a Soviet leader in almost four decades; Meeting between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of SCO summit in Dushanbe (25 November 2010); Visits by Pakistan Army Chief (2009 and 2012); and the Quadripartite Sochi Summit (2010) - considered a turning point in rewriting the history of relations between the two nations and a green signal for the Russian-Pakistani Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade and Economic and Scientific-Technological Cooperation in Islamabad.

Arms trade - the only taboo in Pak-Russia relation - has too proved to be an academic argument as Russian technologies indirectly trickled to Pakistani forces. Ukrainian T-80UD tank (Russian technology), Chinese JF-17 (with Russian RD-93 engine) and MI-17 Helicopters are already in Pak Army arsenal. Pakistan is also likely to purchase MI-35 attack helicopters to fight terrorism.
Three areas of cooperation - energy, trade and security - are recommended as long term policy guidelines for both the nations.

Both the states possess great potential in energy sector which can help boost their economies. Fortunately, Pakistan is blessed with two energy corridors which link Russia (holding world's largest gas reserves), Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Iran (holding 2nd largest gas reserves) with international markets. The materialization of Iran-Pakistan (IP) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Gas Pipeline Projects will not only help Pakistan in meeting its energy shortfall but will also provide access to Russia and CARs to the West. Moreover, Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf, during his meeting with Russian Foreign Mimister Sergey Lavrov on 3 October 2012, Pakistan has also sought Russia's assistance in coal mining and generation of coal power plants.

The second area in which the future of both the countries lies is their cooperation in trade. The bilateral volume of trade between Russia and Pakistan has surged from a paltry $92 million in 2003 to over $700 million in 2011 and is expected to further improve in the years to come.

As explained above, the Russian sale of arms to Pakistan has never been inviolable. Furthermore, in August and November 2012, Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Army Chiefs paid high rated visits to Russia.

Over the past ten years Pakistan and Russia have covered a long distance in trying to come closer to each other. The continuation of this pro-active approach will further strengthen their bilateral bondage. In post-2014 scenario the cementing of ties between the two will be even more pronounced.

By Arshad Mahmood

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