The two phone calls between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistani Premier Imran Khan in a period of less than half a month indicate a defining movement in the continuously improving bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia. The main agenda of the talk was the Afghan predicament and the role that both countries can play as neighbours of Afghanistan.
Both sides agreed to cooperate in multiple fields and to enhance their bilateral partnership. The call by the Russian President to the Pakistani premier depicts the strengthening of the great power competition in the region. Russia and Pakistan are growing close, while the collaboration between India and the United States is also burgeoning with the passage of time.
This signals the future trajectory of the geopolitics of the region and the increase in the contention of the two blocs – the Chinese and the US blocs. Russian President’s call to the Prime Minister of Pakistan could also be considered a tacit acknowledgement of Russia’s reliance on Pakistan to further its geo-strategic interests.
The geostrategic position of Pakistan makes it a key player in the region, as Russia can only see its dream of reaching the Indian Ocean come true by forming cordial relations with Pakistan. The attitude of the US over the course of history towards Pakistan as only being allies in the hour of need and then betraying the latter after fulfilling its goals has coerced Pakistan to look for new allies.
Similarly, cordial relations between the two can give Pakistan access to the Central Asian Republic which it can use to expand its diaspora.
Imran Khan and Putin Calls
Being the prisoners of their geography, the two countries are among those who are highly concerned about the predicament of Afghanistan after the immature withdrawal of the US. This withdrawal has ensued various menaces for the region as well as the whole world. The ingenious retreat of the Western allies from Afghanistan has fueled the emergence of ISIS and Al Qaeda in the region.
The exclusive government formed by the Taliban has also raised concerns about the stability of the country as this has antagonized many ethnic and sectarian groups of the country. The new government has also alienated Iran as it seeks the protection of the Shia community of Afghanistan by the inclusion of Shia people in the government.
All this has made the two countries, Russia and Pakistan, come close and start a joint venture to resolve all the regional issues, especially the Afghan conundrum. Russia President Vladimir Putin and Pakistani Premier Imran Khan exchanged views on multiple issues. Both sides agreed and emphasized the significance of maintaining security and peace in Afghanistan.
They conformed to the need of preventing violence and establishing an inter-Afghan dialogue to ensure the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan that could secure the interests of all the factions of the Afghan peoples. Both sides also agreed on coordinating approaches to the Afghan conundrum in the bilateral and multilateral forums as well.
They also acknowledged using the capabilities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to curb terrorism from the region and to ensure regional stability. Pakistan and Russia also discussed the development of trade and economic ties, and to collaborate in joint projects in the energy and humanitarian spheres.
PM Imran Khan emphasized the urgent need of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. He also highlighted the necessity for the international community to play a pivotal role in Afghanistan, asserting that “Afghan people must not be abandoned at this critical juncture.”
The agreement between the two leaders on the importance of remaining in close contact on bilateral issues portends that the relations between the two countries will strengthen over the passage of time. The calls between the two leaders hold much eminence as it signals the future of the Pakistan-Russia-China bloc.
The relationship between Russia and Pakistan is fretting for India, as the latter had a very close relationship with Russia throughout its history. India and Russia have always enjoyed warm relations but the Indian tilt towards the US, the archrival of Russia, is also one of the major reasons which have contributed Pak-Russia relations
An Overview of the History of the Relationship Between Pakistan and Russia
Since the inception of Pakistan, almost every strand of its foreign policy had been moulded by a security perspective as it inherited the arch-rival at its eastern border – India. The feeling of being debilitated in the face of the security threat from India made Pakistan search for means and ways to bolster its strength to counter the Indian threat in the initial days of its independence.
Pakistan was seeking allies that had strong military and economic capabilities, but the Soviet Union (USSR) was not an option because of its devastating economic plight and its rivalry with the US whose capitalist economic system was vanquishing the world. While the Russian model, communism, was also perceived to be at odds with Islam.
On the other hand, the USSR held the view that the partition of the sub-continent had only facilitated the domination of Britain in both countries. The USSR did not even send a customary message of facilitation to Pakistan on its birth nor took the initiative of establishing an embassy in Pakistan.
This bittered the relationship between the two countries and resulted in the close relations between Pakistan and the US. Both collaborated to counter the USSR in Afghanistan which resulted in dismantling it and carving several states out of the USSR. The relations between Pakistan and Russia have never remained the same following the notion of only having permanent interests in international relations, not friends or foes.
Both countries have collaborated on multiple forums and have launched joint ventures in the past. One of the major events that resulted in the improving relations between the two countries was the visit of Russian Premier Mikhail Fradkov to Pakistan in 2007. The relations between the two countries festered notably after the deterioration of their relations with the US in 2011. Subsequently, they signed a defence cooperation agreement in 2014.
Both started maintaining the view that the US was the main source of instability in the region. Pakistan and Russia held their first-ever joint military exercise called Druzhbha-2016 in September 2016. This counterterrorism drill made India anxious as it was expecting Russia to act on its advice against participating in the drill.
Pakistan also gained four Mi-35 helicopters from Russia in 2017. The leadership of both countries signed many agreements in Moscow in 2018. At the beginning of this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Pakistan after 9 years since 2012. The visit of the foreign minister held behemoth eminence as it started a new epoch of relationship between the two countries.
Since then, the gulf between the two countries has been melting expeditiously. Cordial relations between the two countries are also crucial for achieving their mutual interests. Russia’s quest for reaching the warm waters can only be fulfilled if it maintains warm relations with Pakistan due to the geostrategic location of the latter. Similarly, Pakistan can also reach the Central Asian Republics only after having cordial relations with Russia.
SCO Instrumental for the Stability of Afghanistan
Pakistan and India joined the China-led SCO in 2019 to use it as an opportunity to form closer relations with Russia, China, and the Central Asian Republics (CARs). Russia’s policy after the Pulwama attack was taken by Pakistan as a sign of its improved relationship with Russia. Recently, both sides have agreed to coordinate positions on the Afghan crisis ahead of the SCO meeting.
Both countries along with other members of the organization can join hands to ameliorate the predicament in Afghanistan. The forum can be instrumental in increasing regional cooperation and connectivity. Pakistan and Russia can use the SCO forum to counter terrorist organizations in the region as well. The SCO could also be used to expand the cooperation in BRI.
Role in Afghanistan
Regional stability is crucial for the prosperity and progress of the regional countries. Afghanistan, being at the heart of the South Asian countries, holds eminent significance. The predicament of Afghanistan is one of the major causes of the disturbing peace of the region. Russia and Pakistan can use their influence over the different Afghan parties to counter any sort of intra-Afghan conflict.
Pakistan and Russia have the opportunity to coerce all the conflicting Afghan parties to sit on the negotiation table to form an inclusive Afghan government which would mitigate the chances of conflict and secures their interests. Pakistan and Russia can also engage the Afghan Taliban by using the liberal approach of forming trade relations and making them dependent on the two countries, especially in the recent crisis.
A strong Taliban government in Afghanistan can help to counter the threat of other terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda. It can also unlock the opportunity of approaching the minerals of an estimated amount of $3 trillion. A stable government in Afghanistan can also help to expand the Chinese BRI project and to unlock other trans-regional connectivity opportunities.
One of its major connectivity objectives is to build the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway that Russia can use to reach the Indian Ocean. This could also pave the way for infrastructure building and development in Afghanistan which would help mitigate the financial crisis of Afghanistan.
This connectivity can start a new era of cooperation between the two countries and can extend their economic cooperation beyond the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP) flagship project. Pakistan, Russia, and China have urged the US to provide financial assistance to the Taliban regime and to engage them. Pakistan has also provided aid to the Afghan Taliban regime and has also urged the Taliban to form an inclusive government that would involve all the sectarian and ethnic factions.
The cordiality between the two countries can also be fretting for the US and its regional ally, India. India’s tilt towards the US has antagonized Russia because of its rivalry with the US. Russia and India always had strong economic ties but India’s deals with the US have resulted in the paradigm shift in the foreign policy of Russia which is now coming closer to Pakistan.
The strong alliance between Russia and Pakistan, and the tilt of the Taliban government towards the Chinese bloc would shift the strategic balance towards China and would be damaging for the US and its allies.
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