Pakistan-Russia Relations: Strategic Imperatives
There has been a visible improvement in Pakistan-Russia relations. Both countries are interacting at the political, economic and military level with a commitment to take this relationship forward, which was also highlighted at a recent meeting in Moscow between Pakistan’s Special Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, where both sides reiterated their resolve to further deepen the cooperation. The current bonhomie between the two countries is not unprecedented, both have been cooperating in the past as well.
Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan, twice visited Moscow and Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin also paid a reciprocal visit to Pakistan during the 1960s. As a result of these visits, agreements on trade, economic and military cooperation, and cultural exchange were signed.
During the 1970s, the most important aspect of the Pakistan-Soviet Union engagement was the inauguration of the Pakistan Steel Mill on December 30, 1973. Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, pointed out that the Steel Mill would have a great impact on Pakistan socio-economic structure and in establishing industrial defence base. During the 1970s, Soviet Union, continued its support for Pakistan in the field of oil and gas, and in the exploration of other natural resources.
These past interactions between the two countries show that the desire for establishing long term cordial relations was there but was unfortunately affected by the Cold War politics. However, the current changing geo-strategic environment is providing another opportunity to both the countries to enter into a long term strategic partnership.
For Pakistan, considering the current volatility of its relationship with the U.S. and increasing Indo-U.S. axis, it is in its interest to grab this opportunity because Russia is an important regional and a global power. Today’s Russia is more politically stable, wealthier and better armed, and using its hard and soft power in regaining its great power status in the world order. It is not only having an influence in its periphery and the region but also has presence in different important regions as well, such as, Middle East and the Asia-Pacific. Therefore, close ties with Russia will not only give Pakistan a support of an important global country at different political forums but also help in improving its economy through bilateral trade.
For making the case of improving relationship with Russia stronger, it is important to note that both countries share same concerns and have common interests on different global and regional issues. Pakistan shares same concerns as that of Russia with regards to weaponization of outer-space while Russia appreciates Pakistan's commitment to fighting terrorism and want to support Pakistan's in its efforts, and is critical of U.S. South Asia policy, which puts blame on Pakistan for situation in Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and Russia are of the view that there is no military solution to the Afghan problem and the negotiated settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the only viable option for lasting peace in Afghanistan. Both countries are also members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which aims to fight separatism, extremism and terrorism in the region through cooperation among member countries. These common concerns and interests present a perfect recipe for Pakistan to enter into a constructive partnership with the Russia Federation.
Therefore, it is imperative for Pakistan to take necessary steps, which can convert the current relationship into a viable and constructive one. Engagements at the political level is satisfactory, however, the amount of bilateral trade is a worrying sign. In previous years, the bilateral trade was at $600 million, which reduced to $540 million and further to $369 million in later years. For Pakistan, it is vital to increase this bilateral trade. It is important to note that textile sector, heavy machinery, agricultural products, manufacturing and, oil and gas sectors in Pakistan provide wide range of opportunities for Russia to invest in. While on the other hand, Russian population, together with the neighboring countries, imports textiles and garments, worth over $17 billion, so, this could be a big market for Pakistan’s textile industry.
There is also a need to improve people-to-people contacts, which is the weakest aspect of this relationship. Establishment of Pakistan-Russia friendship center in Islamabad and Moscow can help in great way in improving this aspect.
Furthermore, media of both the countries should also collaborate and propagate the narrative of the importance of Pakistan-Russia relations in the current environment. This will also help in improving the relationship further.
It is important for Pakistan to note that a geo-political transition is taking place at the regional and global level. For safeguarding its interest, Pakistan should mold itself according to this transition and enters in a constructive relationship with major regional and global powers including the Russian Federation.