Mr Muhammad Hamza Tanvir graduated from COMSATS University. He has a keen interest in international relations and regional politics.
The recent visit of the Russian Foreign Minister to Pakistan has marked a seminal transition in the relations between Pakistan and Russia. This visit was the first of its kind in the last 9 years (since 2012). The relationship between Pakistan and Russia has been strained since the inception of the former. The correspondence between them has always been chequered.
The recent visit of the Russian minister to Pakistan holds a behemoth eminence at the time when the Taliban has warned the United States over the deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Pakistani officials and the Russian Foreign Minister held talks on a host of issues.
The troubled peace process of Afghanistan was on top of the agenda along with discussions on bilateral ties including economic cooperation, counter-terrorism, and socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19. Both the countries reaffirmed their support for the Afghan peace process and also expressed deep concerns about the violence in Afghanistan.
History of Pakistan and Russian Relations
Almost every facet of Pakistan’s foreign policy since its inception has been molded by a security perspective. Pakistan inherited an archrival – India – since its birth. The fledgling state felt debilitated in the face of an Indian threat to its security. Hence, it always searched for ways and means to bolster its capacity to counter that threat.
In the initial days of its birth, Pakistan looked for economic and military cooperation – and the Soviet Union was not an option. The latter was not in a state to assist Pakistan because it had borne the brunt of Nazi Germany’s powerful war machine in World War 2, which devastated its economic stature.
Communism, as an ideology, was also perceived antithetical to Islam and Pakistani leaders were also, politically, committed to democracy. Moscow, on the other hand, also held the view that the partition had facilitated British domination in both dominions. The relationship between the two got off to an inauspicious start.
Russia – formerly known as USSR – neither even sent a customary message of facilitation on Pakistan’s independence nor did it took an initiative to establish an embassy in the nascent state. The Pakistani administration, on the other side, considered communism as a secretive and revolutionary movement subversive of law and order.
The first episode that aroused attention at that stage was the USSR’s invitation to the then Pakistani Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan to visit the Soviet Union, which was accepted but not honored. It is surmised that President Truman’s invitation to Nehru provoked Liaqat Ali Khan to solicit an invitation from Moscow.
Pakistan’s role in disintegrating the USSR and allowing the United States to establish a secret intelligence airbase at Badaber, Peshawar further antagonized the Soviet Union. The relations between Pakistan and Russia diverted towards a positive trajectory when the Soviet government expressed the willingness to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Russia, many a time, has used its veto power against Pakistan on the Kashmir issue in the United Nations, but now both the countries are experiencing healthy relations.
In the recent past, Pakistan and Russia relations began improving with the then Russian premier Mikhail Fradkov’s historic visit to Pakistan in 2007. The cordiality between the two festered significantly after their relations with the United States deteriorated in 2011. Thereafter, Pakistan and Russia signed a defense cooperation agreement in 2014.
Both countries started viewing the United States as the leading source of instability in the region. In September 2016, both countries held their first-ever joint military exercise. The military drill was codenamed as ‘Druzhbha-2016’ – a Russian word that means friendship. This counterterrorism drill surprised India who expected Moscow to pay heed to their advice against participating in it.
Islamabad viewed this drill as diversifying its range of security partners and minimizing its dependence on the United States. Pakistan, despite the US’s criticism, endorsed Moscow-brokered peace talks on the Afghan issue in 2017, which excluded the United States. Pakistan also received four Mi-35 helicopters from Russia in 2017.
In the year 2018, Pakistan’s top-level officials including the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Pakistan’s foreign minister visited Moscow and signed many agreements. By the end of the same year, military contingents from India and Pakistan participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) joint exercise.
Pakistan joined SCO in 2017 and has been a key player in the organization since then. Most recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met during the SCO summit in Bishkek in 2019. According to the State Bank of Pakistan, the trade between the two countries in the last fiscal year stood at almost 350 million USD.
Russia, China, and Pakistan: An Incipient Bloc?
The relationship between Russia and Pakistan had been full of trust deficit. The same is the case with China and Russia, but the adage “nations have no permanent friends, but only national interests” seems fit in the scenario of emerging relations between Russia, China, and Pakistan. China and Pakistan lacked trust in Russia in the past but the changing dynamics of global politics have coerced the three countries to come close to each other.
India’s tilt towards the US and western countries in recent years has cast daunting impacts on Russia. The antagonizing relations with the Western countries over Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, and China’s tensions with the Asia-Pacific countries, which are allied with the US, over South China Sea issues, have forced the two countries to search for new allies.
America’s strategic deals with India have also provoked Pakistan to look for new alliances and reduced its dependence on the United States. The significance of China’s CPEC from Gwadar port and BRI did not go unnoticed in Russia. All these factors have compelled the three countries to collaborate in regional and global political maneuvering.
The strategic location and potential for making a strong group against India and the Western countries, have raised concerns among the Western powers. This bloc could also include Iran along with many central Asian and African countries who feel deserted and exploited by former imperial powers, which could prove detrimental for Western powers and can raise a strong axis against them.
A Change in the Diplomatic Posture
The recent visit of the Russian Foreign Minister holds a significant eminence. It has sparked agitation in the western bloc including India. The significance of this visit has been increased due to the time at which this trip has been made by the Russian Minister. Afghan Taliban have warned the US to withdraw its troop from Afghanistan before 1st May 2021 in the wake of the US-Taliban deal signed in early 2020.
The perturbed Afghan peace process was on the top of the agenda between the officials of the two countries. In a press briefing during his visit to Islamabad, the Russian Foreign Minister mentioned that both countries will hold joint military exercises at sea and in mountains. He also indicated that Russia will provide military gear to Pakistan.
HE Mr. Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, suggested the possibility of a high-level meeting between Russia and the Taliban in Moscow shortly. Russia hosted a meeting with the Taliban last month as it rethinks its withdrawal of forces by 1st May, with it having depicted itself as a major player in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s role in concluding a peace deal with the Taliban is not something hidden. So, Russia and Pakistan both hold an imminent position in the region. HE Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, said that the country would also buy 5 million doses of the Russian-made Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, and the two countries have also discussed the possibility of production of the vaccine in Pakistan.
He further iterated that Pakistan also wanted Russian assistance to improve its energy sector as well as to modernize its antiquated railway. Russia is also building a gas pipeline between Karachi and Lahore.
Ramifications on the Regional and Global Politics
The increasing cooperation between Russia and Pakistan and the making of a new axis in the region marks a great shift in the political trajectory of regional and global politics. Chinese influence is mushrooming day by day not only in South Asia but also in Central Asia and African countries.
The strengthening of Pakistan and Russian relations is consternating for India along with its novel strategic partner – the United States of America. The recent deals between the two countries can prove to be an alternate source for Pakistan to meet its energy and economic needs.
Pakistan will now have access to Russian technology along with Chinese equipment. Pakistan can prove to be a new market for Russian goods which was perturbed due to the Indian tilt towards the United States. Although this could spark competition between Russia and China, the converging interest in countering India, the United States, and Israel could help the three states to sort out their issues peacefully.
In Afghanistan’s case, both Russia and Pakistan share the view that the United States’ presence in the region is the main source of instability but neither desire a complete withdrawal of the US forces as they know that Afghan forces are incapable of sustaining themselves with the financial support of the United States.
On the other hand, both the US and Taliban know the significance of the aforementioned two countries in maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is imperative not only for Russia and Pakistan but also for China because peace and stability are mandatory for China’s smooth upward trajectory as a new global superpower.
Pakistan also seeks Russian support on the Kashmir issue against India, its archrival. Imran Khan’s firm stance on the Russia-Ukraine war is sure to win Pakistan some points. Russia and Pakistan are shaping a new era of economic and strategic cooperation but what impact this cooperation can cause on American hegemony and the plight of the people of Kashmir, is yet to be seen.
However, the increase in the cooperation between the troika – Russia, China, and Pakistan – could emancipate the region from the shackles of the United States and other foreign powers and could promise the region a beckoning future.
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