Pakistan

Pakistan Explores the Russian Option – Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi

There is a widespread realisation in Pakistan that Pakistan’s heavy diplomatic and financial dependence on the West, especially the United States, has restricted its foreign policy options. The official and non-official circles argue that Pakistan must work towards expanding diplomatic autonomy by cultivating the countries that it ignored in the past.

The widespread support in Pakistan for expanding multifaceted relations with China is caused by the desire to seek new avenues of interaction in international diplomacy. The same consideration has built support in Pakistan for closer diplomatic, financial and security relations with Russia. As there are no current differences between Pakistan and Russia on regional and global affairs, the general perception in Pakistan is that this has created an opportunity for both countries to expand their bilateral interaction which will be mutually rewarding. Pakistan’s full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2017 has also created an opportunity for more active interaction with Russia. Diplomatic exchange visits between the two countries have increased in 2016-2017.

The widespread support in Pakistan for expanding multifaceted relations with China is caused by the desire to seek new avenues of interaction in international diplomacy. The same consideration has built support in Pakistan for closer diplomatic, financial and security relations with Russia. As there are no current differences between Pakistan and Russia on regional and global affairs, the general perception in Pakistan is that this has created an opportunity for both countries to expand their bilateral interaction which will be mutually rewarding. Pakistan’s full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2017 has also created an opportunity for more active interaction with Russia. Diplomatic exchange visits between the two countries have increased in 2016-2017.

The most significant Pakistani visit to Russia is that of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in the last week of April 2018. He met with his counterpart in Russia and they explored ways to expand security relations with each other, cooperation for countering terrorism and sale of some military equipment to Pakistan.

Immediately before Pakistan’s Army Chief’s visit to Russia, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Lt-General Naseer Khan Janjua led a delegation to the 9th National Security Conference at Sochi, Russia, on April 24-26, 2018. There were bilateral meetings of the Pakistan delegation with Russia’s military authorities who exchanged views and agreed to work together for regional security, countering terrorism and consultation on Afghanistan and related security affairs.

A Russian business delegation visited Karachi on April 24-26, 2018, in response to the Governor of Sindh’s visit to St. Petersburg in October 2017. The visiting Russian delegation met with Sindh government officials and the business community in order to explore the options for cooperation in various economic fields, especially textiles, oil and gas, and pharmaceuticals.

On March 2-3, 2018, 12th meeting of Pakistan-Russia Consultative Group on Strategic Stability was held in Islamabad. The Russian side was led by Deputy Foreign Minister. Several high-level exchange visits took place between the two countries in 2017.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister and Defence Minister visited Moscow in 2017. They went there for participating in international conferences but these occasions were also used for holding bilateral meetings between Pakistan and Russia. In June 2016, the then Army Chief General Raheel Sharif also visited Russia.

Pakistan will later this year participate in joint military exercises with Russia and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Earlier Pakistan and Russia’s special troops participated in a joint counter-terrorism exercise in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s official and non-official circles think that the expanded ties with Russia and China would increase Pakistan’s diplomatic options, enabling it to deflect American pressures. This improves Pakistan’s bargaining position in its interaction with the West in general and the US in particular.

The improvement of relations with Russia can also help Pakistan to deal effectively with its problems with India. Traditionally, Russia (the Soviet Union before 1991) maintained very close relations with India. It contributed to India’s industrialisation, especially the development of defence industry. It supported India in its disputes with Pakistan, going back to the mid-fifties when the Soviet Union supported India’s position on Kashmir and banished Pakistan for the latter’s participation in the US-sponsored regional security pacts. The only period of Russian non-partisanship in its interaction with Pakistan and India was the 1965-70 period when the Soviet Union adopted somewhat balanced approach on India-Pakistan issues. In 1967-68, the Soviet Union provided helicopters, military communication and transport equipment and some weapons to Pakistan.

Now, in 2017-18, Pakistan, once again, hopes that cultivation of active diplomatic interaction with Russia will moderate Russia’s pro-India posture in South Asia. Pakistan does not expect Russia to sideline India. However, the improvement of Russia’s relations with Pakistan will make Russia adopt a non-partisan attitude towards India-Pakistan issues.

Russia also stands to gain from improvement in its relations with Pakistan. It reduces Russia’s reliance on India for pursuing its South Asian agenda. As India has expanded its relations with the United States over the last ten years, Russia wants to demonstrate that it also has additional options. Pakistan is one such Russian option in South Asia.

Like it was in 1967-68, Pakistan is keen to obtain military equipment and weapons from Russia. In 2017, Pakistan obtained some MI-35 helicopters and communication equipment from Russia. In 2018, Pakistan has taken up the issue of buying more helicopters, communication and transport material and some weapons from Russia. This attempt is expected to settle in favour of Pakistan which will get Russian weaponry in 2018-19.

Russia wants Pakistan to exercise its influence to convince the Afghan Taliban to enter into a dialogue with the Kabul government. Both, Pakistan and Russia, have a shared interest in security and stability in the Pakistan-Afghanistan area. In fact, Russia, China and Pakistan consult one another on the issues of terrorism, and stability in the region, especially in Afghanistan.

Despite increased diplomatic interaction between Russia and Pakistan, trade relations have not shown any major increase. There is much scope for trade between the two countries. However, the government and the business community are moving slowing. Consequently, Pakistan-Russia trade is low. Russia has shown interest in building gas pipelines in Pakistan. It had also shown interest in agriculture, telecommunication, oil and gas and bilateral trade.

The Russian opening is a good opportunity for Pakistan to step up its diplomacy to cope its problems with India, Afghanistan and the question of political settlement between the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government. However, Pakistan does not view China and Russia as a substitute to the US. Pakistan will continue to have active diplomatic interaction with the US. Pakistan is endeavouring to increase its diplomatic autonomy by expanding its ties with China and Russia. So far, the improvement in Pakistan’s relations with Russia has been slow. However, it is a significant development, and both countries are expected to benefit from it.

Source: Dunya News

One comment

Leave a Reply