By Misbah Arif*
At the end of Cold War, Moscow’s influence and interest significantly declined in South Asia. However, after almost two decades there is an obvious change in Russian policies both at domestic as well as at international level. Changing patterns in Russia’s Asian foreign policy will be directly affecting the regional security environment of South Asia. Cementing Indo-U.S. strategic partnership against China, historical India Pakistan rivalry, and conflicting interests of great powers collectively made South Asia one of the most vulnerable regions.
In view of Moscow’s capabilities, its reorientation to South Asia will have significant implications for regional security complex in general and Pakistan in particular. The relationship between Pakistan and Russia has been described by many as a tale of misunderstandings and lost opportunities. Pak-Russia relations have been just like a roller costar ride with many ups and downs and most of the time they have perceived each other in a deleterious mindset. Pakistan’s foreign policy has been mainly focused on Western world while Russia has been strengthening its ties with India. In past, both countries missed opportunities to cooperate with each other due to minor difference.
The historical back ground gives a clear picture that both countries have never been involved in direct confrontation but proxies have been a source of misunderstanding and constrained relations between two. However, the strategic landscape is changing now at a very rapid pace. As Russia is strengthening its political, strategic, and economic ties with Pakistan, it will open new avenues in almost all sectors. Recently, Russia has made agreements with Pakistan to uplift arms embargo, sold Mi-35 attack helicopters, and has negotiated a deal with Pakistan for SU-35 and SU-37 fighter jets. Pakistani and Russian Navies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on bilateral cooperation in the naval field.
These trends show that Pakistan is acknowledged as an important player by Russia that could bring peace to the South Asian region mainly Afghanistan. But the decades old arch rival of Pakistan i.e. India, has been quite afraid about Russia-Pakistan relations, ignoring the fact that its increasing strategic partnership with the U.S. is disturbing the Balance of Power (BoP) in South Asia.
The Pak-Russia rapprochement indicates rearrangement in the South Asian region. Russia is a significant country because of its geopolitical outreach and great power status while Pakistan’s population, presence of nuclear arsenals and geostrategic location makes it a significant actor in international relations. The statements made by the Russian and Pakistani Defense Ministers after their interaction at this year’s Moscow Conference on International Security show that the military relations between the two Great Powers are on the right track and moving them closer to a long-awaited strategic partnership.
Moreover, Russia and Pakistan have organized regular exercises of naval and ground forces to strengthen their ties. Similarly, the two countries have a general consensus on undertaking counter terrorism and extremism operations in Pakistan. Pakistan introduced Regional Anti Terrorist Structure(RATS) in Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) which was believed as an effective measure to fight against drug trafficking which is one of the main sources of funding to terrorists.
It is generally believed that it is not the climate change or environmental degradation that is affecting Pakistan but actually the policy formulation in Pakistan regarding energy sector has caused the damage. Russia has abundant oil, gas and coal reservoirs and can help Pakistan in overcoming its growing energy needs. Pakistan geostrategic location makes it easier to get access to energy rich region. Moreover, Iran-Pakistan (IP) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-Iran (TAPI) pipelines are in well pipeline. TAPI connects Russia and Central Asian Republics (CARs) with the South Asia states. Both projects are economically feasible and are in interest of Pakistan. Both states can help each other in oil and gas explorations, construction of floating liquefied natural gas terminals, North South gas pipeline from Gwadar to Nawabshah as well as modernization of oil and gas infrastructure.
In addition, Pak-Russia civil nuclear cooperation will open new avenues for bilateral cooperation. The civil nuclear cooperation will fill the historical gaps between two states and will highlight the level of trust between them. Pakistan is looking for opportunities in civil nuclear cooperation in order to deal with the energy shortage. Russia would be an ideal option for Pakistan because of its capabilities and experience. Pak-Russia energy civil nuclear cooperation will help Pakistan to develop a long-term comprehensive program to improve Pakistan’s energy sector. India received a waiver in 2008 that allowed it to engage in civil nuclear trade, Pakistan is also looking forward for such leverage by getting Nuclear Suppliers’ Membership (NSG) as it fulfills all the pre-requisites. Ambassador Alexey Dedov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Pakistan recently stated that Russia has no objections to Pakistan’s membership of the NSG. As long the dialogue between Russia and Pakistan continues on civil nuclear cooperation, there is prospectus of peaceful nuclear cooperation.
Furthermore, Pakistan and Russia can join hands in outer space as well. Russia aims at curbing the placement of nuclear weapons and arms race in the outer space and so do Pakistan. Russia and China in 2014 proposed a new draft of Prevention of Arms Race on Outer Space (PAROS) Treaty. The treaty aims at non-placement of nuclear weapons in outer space. In 2012, China, Pakistan and Russia said that this treaty is their top most priority at the Conference of Disarmament (CD). On 25th October 2015, in a session of the General Assembly’s Disarmament and International Security Committee, Pakistani representative said that Pakistan is looking forward for effective mechanism and increased efforts to deal with the grave danger to global peace and security. This is the right time to address this issue before it’s too late. Once space is weaponized it would be difficult to stop others with help of another ceremonial treaty.
Likewise, the economic interdependence between Russia and Pakistan can be established by the consolidation of Eurasian Economic Union via CPEC to South Asia and to Indian Ocean and beyond. Pakistan can be a viable source of agricultural and textile goods to Russia. Russia has banned agriculture imports specially food from Europe. Pakistan can export agriculture products to Russia. Both countries should open track II channels for mutual collaboration.
In view of changing geostrategic landscape, Pakistan is looking for diversification of its foreign and Defence policy. It wants to maintain good ties with all the nations and decrease its dependence upon U.S. Pakistan cannot afford to have all of its eggs in one basket. In a multi-polar world it is in interest of Pakistan to have good ties with all states. Hence, reset in Pak-Russia relations will increase Pakistan’s foreign policy options. Pakistan should pursue its relationship with Russia vigorously and keep it independent of its relationship with other countries.
*Misbah Arif, Islamabad Based Researcher and M.Phil scholar from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad