Pak-Russia relationship, geostrategic necessity | By Brig Tariq Khalil (R)


Pak-Russia relationship, geostrategic necessity

EIGHTH IGC meeting has been held in Islamabad. Indeed, it is a good development. The relationship between the two countries soured last year due to the geopolitical scenario then emerged. It is indeed a very encouraging as Russia’s Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov said on Friday that Pakistan is going to purchase Russian oil and energy resources. It is expected that by March this year agreements will be finalized. Pakistan may pay in the local currencies. If so, it will be a very big plus for the present economic turmoil. Pakistan and Russia agreed to strengthen their relationship in other sectors too, like technology transfer, railways and other mutually agreed areas of interest.

Soon after there have been voices trying to oppose thaw in the relationship. From the last 20 years Pakistan-Russia business forum and Pakistan-Russia Business Council platforms voice Russia as our neighbour. Pakistan has no politico-strategic dispute with them after the end of the Afghan war. Even in Cold War days in the late 1999 Pakistan had direct flights to Moscow of Aeroflot, and PIA had its flight to London via Moscow. These were stopped. It’s time to revive these flights to facilitate business and trade between the two countries. The opponents of any relationship with Russia should understand that every country establishes its trade and diplomatic relations for mutual interest and in this scenario the country comes first. If India is taking oil and energy from Russia, which has now reached the level of 1.4 million barrels, then why not Pakistan. There is immense scope to build up the trade and Industry relationship for the mutual benefit of the two countries.

Especially in the areas of oil exploration, railway engineering and laying new railway lines for super-fast trains, chemical industry, urban transport systems based on electric, IT industry, film and art, aviation, education higher education. Education is not only cheaper and has the same standard which is acceptable in the EU. However, knowing the past experience, the government of Pakistan will have to be aggressive in its endeavours if it wants to develop a beneficial mutual relationship. It must also be a friendly relationship with Russia that will benefit both strategically, financially and much cheaper logistically. A special monitoring desk has to be established to ensure the policy decisions are pushed. There will be external pressures as well to be met with.

Pakistan must have a good relationship with America and the EU, they being the traditional partners. Both these are traditional markets for a businessman however that does not mean Pakistan should not diversify its business spectrum. Let there be no doubt that in the follow up of the Russia-Ukraine war the world has got divided again into two camps, wherein USA and EU are pumping money, arms and ammunition and even mercenaries to support Ukraine in the war against Russia. The latest leakage of the classified papers in an article in New York Time reveals a horrifying plan of the Biden Administration to intensify war in Ukraine. EU countries are forced to give Ukraine offensive weapons like Leopard tanks, long range artillery as well as missile systems. Similarly, America is giving Abraham M1 tanks to Ukraine.

In reality, EU countries are suffering the most due to this war. The world is reeling under the economic and political impact of this conflict. Why does America want to escalate it? World diplomacy, it’s the strategic objectives to marginalize Russia. Will they be able to do so is a matter of discussion and assessment. The plan leaked out is an assault on Crimea which in itself is a very dangerous proposition. Crimea is the red line of the Russian Federation and they had in the past in their policy statements indicated use of the nuclear weapons in certain conditions if red lines are crossed. Crimea is the one. The effort will be to escalate the war in the non-nuclear shield but it is a matter which has to be seen in the coming days. Nevertheless, it has divided the world in a very dangerous strategic milieu.
This scenario, for countries like Pakistan, is extremely important for Pakistan. Pakistan should not put itself in one block. Nevertheless, neutrality and defiance for smaller countries is one of the most difficult strategic options. Yet there are examples where the countries have managed to balance their strategic options.

This article does not dwell into the geopolitical aspect and I’d like to confine myself to the development of business cooperation with Russia. Nevertheless, a just and favourable geo political milieu is necessary. In the past with the little warmth Russia had been very helpful to giving Pakistan in the building of Steel Mills and in power generation. They helped in the seventies in the search of oil and gas. Pakistan also received military equipment to a limited extent including the helicopters. Russia is an over $30 billion consumer market. Pakistan has a vast opportunity to tap this market through land routes through transit in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

A couple of years back Inter Rous, the leading electric supplier company of Russia, had shown interest in supplying electricity to Pakistan through a transmission line. Now with Afghanistan in a relatively stable condition under Taliban, arrangements can be made to construct this transmission line. In the seventies Russians had a detailed seismic survey carried out for oil and gas in Pakistan not only in Balochistan but also in other areas.

According to the Oil and Gas Research Institute in Moscow they have the data available of the survey carried out provided the government of Pakistan shows some interest. With the changing scenario, when Russian companies are trying to find avenues of investment because of the Ukraine America conflict a lot of money is being pumped into Dubai, Turkey and UAE in various investment projects. Why not in Pakistan? It can be done to explore gas and oil as public-private infrastructure. Even Chinese can also be invited in this field.

Presence of Gazprom in Pakistan, earlier interested, should be encouraged and sought for.
Similarly, a few years back a delegation of Russian railways had come to Pakistan and they were exploring joint ventures with Pakistan Railways. Having no positive response, things didn’t move forward. Time has come that we explore and invoke the Russian railway coming to Pakistan. They are as advanced as the Chinese are and cheaper.

They be invited either to upgrade the existing tracks or build new lines besides ML1, like Gwadar Karachi, Peshawar Jalalabad and onwards and other loop lines including upgradation of Karachi Quetta lines and linkage with Central Asia by railway line. Also, there is scope for cooperation in the aviation sector, media, film industry and education scholarships. Russians are also putting improved underground metro trains overhead transport infrastructure on electric as part of a green environment strategy. They are compatible and, in some areas, cheaper than the Chinese. Pakistan can benefit from having electric tram services on existing roads to save the cost of expensive overhead infrastructure. Finally the immediate action should be to establish direct air link and the banking system support any future endeavours in the business.

—The author gallantry decorated with 33 years of Defence and 29 years in corporate and industry, Past Director of Pak Russia Business Council, Past President Pak Belarus Business Council and Joint Council, FPCCI. Secretary General Pak Russia Business Forum (PRBF).