IN a report, titled, “The Eight Great Powers of 2017” published on January 24, 2017 by The American Interest, Russia is ranked as the 4th great power after US, China and Japan simultaneously. Though Russia remained engaged in Ukraine, weathered an economic storm and watched cracks widen in the European Union (EU), its ability to sideline the US in post-Aleppo peace talks confirmed that Russia, not the US, has become the major power broker in Syria. Russia’s reconciliation with Turkey also positioned it well to drive a wedge between Turkey and the West. Russia’s success in Syria not only increased its role in world affairs but after Trump into power in US and Brexit in Europe, the unthinkable has also become a reality, and Russia now is considered as a prospective great power challenging the West.
The changing geo-political circumstances are also allowing for shifts in the foreign policies for regional actors in South Asia. Pakistan, too, is seeking new avenues of opportunity, lessening its reliance on the US in particular and the West in general. So what strategic benefits Pakistan can get from Russia? Though there are no close and solid relations between Pakistan and Russia but India’s diplomatic efforts to convince Russia that Pakistan supports terrorism in the region have failed. Pakistan and Russia have similar positions on a wide range of international issues, including the peaceful settlement of conflicts, the formation of a multipolar world order, strengthening the central role of the United Nations, establishing the principles of international law in relations between states.
Recently, Russia has shown clear signs of cozying up to Pakistan. Islamabad is seen in Moscow as part of the dialogue on the resolution of the Afghanistan problem. It is an important political and military partner of Russia, and recipient of Russian weapons. In 2016, a joint Russian-Pakistani tactical exercise ‘Friendship-2016’ was also conducted in Pakistan to strengthen and develop counter-terrorism cooperation between both the states. Pakistan is a promising member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Since, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a key source of economic integration from regional to global level; Russia also stands to benefit from the access to the Arabian Sea that the (CPEC) can provide.
At the end of 2016, Russia indicated its interest to have access to the Gwadar port and also planned to link it with its own Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project. Russia considers Pakistan as an integral to its fight against ISIS. For the regional stability Russia wants the Taliban’s political representatives to join the dialogue initiated by China, Pakistan and Russia. Afghanistan, India and Iran also have joined the process. Russia has reached out to Afghan Taliban, conducted its first ever military exercise with Pakistan, and drifted away from its traditional partner in the region, India. Russia supports the efforts of the Pakistani partners on counterterrorism track. Russia also believes that CASA-1000 project, envisaging the creation of a system of transfer of electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is going to be beneficial for all parties. However, the spark missing in Pak-Russia relationship is trade.
There are various zones which could be mutually advantageous to cooperate in the geo-economic, military and regional politico-strategic and security areas. Russia has shown interest in investing in Pakistan in the fields of technology, drip irrigation, desert farming and agriculture. Russian exports to Pakistan are only 1%, and Pakistan’s exports to Russia are 0.06%. A strong economic trade can further enhance their trust and will open various venues for cooperation. There are prospects of raising the bilateral trade and Pakistan can export its products to the Russian market. According to the Agriculture Department, Gilgit-Baltistan, the share of Gilgit-Baltistan in apricot production is 114,286 tons per annum and its export to Russia, the world’s largest importer of dry apricot, could be increased through CPEC connectivity. Russia’s access to Gwadar Port will provide further economic opportunities which will strengthen the Russian economy. It as a game changer among other things will provide a chance to Pakistan, China and Russia and build a strong regional alliance.
Education sector could be an interesting point between Russia and Pakistan. Pakistani students can take benefit of advanced science and technology education in Russia. Currently, there are less than 500 Pakistani students in Russian universities. Cooperation in education is an opportunity to develop people to people contacts. Exchange of scholars and sending Pakistani scientists to Russia and Russian scientists to Pakistan can promote bilateral cooperation. In 2017 and years to come, and with Pakistan increasingly playing a more active role in the region and integrating in global transport routes, Russia must take the advantage of the benefits of a strategic partnership and both states should trust each other for further cooperation.
—The writer is a Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.