International relations are taking new shape with China’s rise and Russia’s resurgence. States, in new political map, are trying to exploit opportunities for their common good. Russia, in South Asia, is considered to be an important pillar of political structure because of its close ties with India and its past role in mediating between the two nuclear armed rivals; India and Pakistan. Although, the relations between Pakistan and Russia have been more of a roller coaster ride, they have been growing over the past decade with increased diplomatic engagement. Russia is reasserting its role in its immediate sphere of influence and beyond, and Pakistan is looking for new avenues for strategic and economic partnership.
The historic Tashkent Summit in 1966, between Pakistan and India was arranged under the patronage of the then Soviet Prime Minister Alexi Kosygin. Pakistan’s first solitary Steel Mill remains a towering reminder of the Pak-Russian friendship. With US decision of forces withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia look for process of forging closer relations based on new strategic realities. Defence collaboration between Russia and Pakistan mounted in June 2014 when Russia lifted embargo on arms supplies to Pakistan. While setting aside the Indian opposition, the Putin administration had first lifted the embargo on Russian arms supplies to Pakistan.
Russian Consul General Andrey Demidov while speaking at the 65th year of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Russia emphasized on mutual cooperation by saying that “Our Two countries always understood that they have common interests—to put an end to the threat of terror, to eliminate the drug menace, and the threat to religious extremism and other evils.” The other common goals between Pakistan and Russia includes peace and stability in Afghanistan and economic cooperation in Central Asia, upgrading political, diplomatic, economic and defence relations, inadmissibility of arms race in outer space, Pakistan’s counter terrorism operations and Russian counter-terror expertise for Combating terrorism and religious extremism and encourage private entrepreneurs to boost bilateral trade, commensurate with existing potential.
Russia is now strategically rebalancing its relationships with the regional states including CARs, China and Pakistan. With Pakistan, it is willing to cooperate in various projects. The broader areas are trade, defence, energy and power, railways, telecommunications and Information Technology (IT). The mutual current trade volume is on the rise and currently stands at around 580 million USD which has been stated as much lower than potential. Russia is assisting Pakistan in energy sector e.g., Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI), and has announced 14 billion USD investment. Pakistan has also already granted Russia permission to use Gwadar port through China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Furthermore, Pakistan plans to join CPEC with Eurasia Economic Union.
Pakistan Russia plan to energize the relationship at strategic level and confidence of both states in each other is growing at a fast pace. Strong ties between Pakistan and Russia would help in building stability and prosperity in the region. For Russia, the benefits of improving bilateral relations with Pakistan are well defined, especially in the context of a regional framework for anti-terrorism cooperation as well as Pakistan’s interest in buying Russian weapons systems and expanding economic interaction. Pakistan is the key to east -west and north -south trade corridors, including Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in South Asia. It offers China North East corridor, likewise it can offer Russia the west corridor. Russia can take benefits from Gwadar port too. This can play a vital role in the stability and economic progress of these regions.
Pakistan can be a competitive source of agricultural and textile goods to Russia. Russian weaponry is cheaper than that of US. The defence partnership can ease the financial burden on the military. Pakistan can also enhance its relations with Russia through Track-3 diplomacy. People to people contact, universities’ student exchange programmes and Russian language centers are some avenues which can facilitate this interaction. Back 1970s and 80s many Pakistani students went to study in the prestigious Lomonosov Moscow State University on scholarships, this practice needs to restored, similarly Russian students should be encouraged to study at top-notch Pakistani universities. Cooperation can be pursued in a number of ‘high-tech’ sectors, such as biotechnology, aviation and space, where Russia possesses competitive capabilities. We have ample opportunities to develop mutually beneficial partnerships in space industry and telecommunications. Economic cooperation is commendable, expansion of the Steel Mill and energy deals will help Pakistan to overcome its energy needs.
The trust deficit between India and Pakistan is high. A direct Indo-Pak dialogue hardly yields anything substantial. In this situation if Pakistan’s relations improve with a country which is a strong ally of India, then India should support this move as this channel could later be exploited to build trust with its neighbour. Russia desires Indo-Pakistan normalization to prevent a disastrous conflict, limit US influence and develop new avenues for energy, trade and industrial cooperation with South Asian countries. There already is evolving a strategic partnership between China and Russia for the promotion of regional peace. Apart from its close cooperation with China, Pakistan seeks Russian economic assistance in form of FDI and technological cooperation particularly in the energy field.
*Gulshan Rafiq: The writer is an Islamabad based researcher.