Dr Muhammad Khan
With the begining of 21st century, there has been a gradual warming in the bilateral relationship of Pakistan and Russia. Once considered to be the rivals, this transformation in the relationship is being viewed critically by various analysts of international relations. According to dominant view, this development is part of new strategic alignment, taking place at the global level where Russia and China are trying to change the unipolor character of world order and Pakistan is being viewed as linchpin. Surely, the Pakistani geopolitical location is very significant for any strategic alignment in the Asian Continent, being a junction between various regions of Asia besides providing shortest access to Indian Ocean. To be better placed regionally and realised globally, both China and Russia need access to Indian Ocean, which can be possible through Pakistani geopolitics.
Another class of international relations scholars feels that, the warming of Pakistan Russia relationship is primarily because of unstable situation in Afghanistan, where US presence is being seen by Russia as a challenge for the regional security. According to Petr Topychkanov, a senior research analyst at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), “Russia is concerned about the long-term presence of the US and its allies in Afghanistan, and therefore it’s in Russia’s long-term interests to have an inside view of the situation in Afghanistan.” This scholar feels that, by coming closer to Pakistan, Russia would get the much needed and updated information about the developments in Afghanistan.
A senior Professor of John’s Hopkins University, Mr Daniel Markey, view this warming up of Pak-Russia relation as developing commanlities between the former rivals of the cold war. In his opinion, this relationship would solve two key concerns of Russia; one, ‘to blunt the threat of IS from Afghanistan and two, to undermine US influence in Afghanistan. He said, “The point is that Russia and Pakistan probably have more in common with respect to the war in Afghanistan than the United States has with either — and this is a real turnaround from prior history.” For Russia, the ISIS factor in Afghanistan is really worrisome. Russia feels that, the growth of ISIS in Afghanistan is directly threatening the Central Asian States and Russia.
Even, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed US for not combating the Islamic State (ISIS) in Afghanistan. Rather, Moscow fear that the US is behind the expansion of IS in Afghanistan for the destabilisation of entire region. Washington, however, accuse Russia for not supporting the peace process in Afghanistan. US Assistant Secretary of State, Alice Wells, emphasised Moscow to unequivocally support the Afghan government. She even pointed fingers over Russian support of Taliban in Afghanistan.
The most significant aspect of Pakistan-Russia relationship is the prospects of Pakistan becoming the future energy corridor from Central Asia and Russia to South Asia and even China. In this regard, Russian oil and gas companies will explore the possibilities of oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan and rest of South Asian region. Already, Russia and Pakistan are in the process of negotiating a “potential energy deals worth in excess of $10 billion.” As per former Pakistani Foreign Minister, Kh Asif, Russia will help Pakistan in the establishment of 4-5 power projects, thus further cementing the bilateral relationship. As per reliable sources, “On a strategic basis, Russia is coming in very fast on the energy side” in Pakistan. Already, both countries have signed an ‘inter-governmental agreement (IGA) on energy, in a way, paving the way for Russian state-giant Gazprom to enter negotiations to supply LNG to Pakistan.’ There is growing perception that, with waning US influence over Islamabad, Pakistan Russian economic relations will grow further, with opening ‘up a fast-growing gas market for Moscow’s energy companies.’
Pakistani Defence Minister, Khurram Dastgir has recently visited Moscow and had an in depth discussion with Russian Federation for enhancement of defence and security related relations between both countries. Upon conclusion of his visit, he said, “It is an opening. Both countries have to work through the past to open the door to the future.” Indeed, there are greater prospects of political, economic and strategic relationship between Pakistan and Russia. Pakistan Army Chief, General Bajwa during his recent visit of Moscow held wide ranging talks with his Russian counterpart, Colonel General Oleg Salyukov. The Russian commander said in a statement that, “Pakistan is a geo-strategically important country and Russia is keen to expand its existing bilateral military to military cooperation.” General Bajwa thanked and assured reciprocity of good will gesture from Pakistani side. The growing Pakistan Russian relationship is being viewed with concern from New Delhi and Washington. As per Sushant Sareen, a leading India expert, “If the Russians start backing the Pakistanis in a big way at the political level, then it creates a problem for us.” US has already been alarmed over this development and indirectly opposing it vigorously.
Indeed, at regional and global level, Pakistan and Russia have many commonalities and convergence of interests. Therefore, let’s exploit these available avenues for the larger interests of political stability, economic prosperity and connectivity among the various regions of Asian Continent.
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.