Russia-Pakistan relations in the post cold war era have improved reasonably. It is known that friends and enemies changes in international politics as per the circumstances depending upon the national interest of the country. Keeping this in mind, one could see how the strong US-Pakistan relationship deteriorated after maintaining almost 60 years of a strong bond between each other. Today a shift has occurred between the Pakistan-US ties, between US-India ties and also between Russia-Pakistan ties. A new era of friendship and cooperation started between these nations. While it is important to diversify the relationship for the development of the country at the same time, it is also important to maintain the old trusted ties.
Whenever a talk on the growing Russia-Pakistan partnership comes-up, a question is raised about whether this relationship will have any adverse impact on Indo-Russian relations. In particular, whether Russia will sell arms to Pakistan, which might be a worrying factor for India. As far as India-Russia relations are concerned, they are time-tested and cannot be easily disturbed and will not be affected anyway due to Russia’s growing engagement with Pakistan. Looking into Russia's historic relationship with India, it appears unlikely that Russia will permit allow its ties with Islamabad to have any negative impact on New Delhi. Similarly if the India-US relationship improves then Russia need not worry on this growing proximity either, as for India, Russia’s friendship and strategic partnership is extremely valuable.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to visit Islamabad on 26th September for a quadrilateral meeting with Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, mainly to discuss the future of Afghanistan. Russia-Pakistan relations took a new start in 2002, when the then Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf paid a visit to Moscow after a gap of almost 30 years since President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto visited Russia. Of course, during the Cold War period Pakistan and the USSR did cooperate with each other on a number of occasions and some exchange of visits and dialogue also took place. A steel plant was also built in Karachi with Soviet technical assistance. However, Russia-Pakistan relations could not reach the same height as Russia-India relations during the Cold War era. One of the main reasons for this was mainly due to Pakistan’s growing proximity towards the USA Also the USSR-Pakistan relationship deteriorated sharply during 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan war, due to mistrust and suspicions that developed because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
However, in the post-Cold War period things have changed reasonably. Today, Pakistan and Russia agree to promote trade, investment and joint projects particularly in energy, infrastructure development, metal industry and agriculture sectors. Expanding defence ties by holding joint military exercises are also under consideration. Moscow has offered to sell Pakistan the Sukhoi Superjet 100, a new aircraft with a capacity of up to 95 passengers, while Pakistan and Russia jointly agreed to upgrade the steel plant built in Karachi during the Soviet period. Russia has offered Pakistan counter-terrorism equipments and to cooperate in fighting terrorism and radicalism. Russia has also promised to explore the possibilities of developing the CASA (Central Asia-South Asia) 100 electric transmission project from Tajikistan and improve the heavy mechanical complex in Taxilla. Russia has expressed its support for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline project. Both the countries are showing interest to enhance the cooperation, which would help in developing a strong bilateral relationship based on mutual interests. Today, Pakistan is an observer in the Sanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and is hoping to get full membership. In 2011, Prime Minister Putin publicly approved Pakistan’s proposal to join the SCO as a full member along with India and emphasised on improving relations with Pakistan. Today, Russia wants to get more involved in the regional affairs mainly in stabilising Afghanistan before the withdrawal of US troops by 2014 from the country.
Instability in Afghanistan and its consequence which can easily spill over to the neighbouring Central Asian region as well as to the North Caucasus is a concern for Russia. Apart from the threat of radicalism, Russia is also concerned about the drug-trafficking that flows from Afghanistan to Russia through Central Asia. Almost one fourth of the drugs produced in Afghanistan flows to Russia. With a drastic demographic fall and with nearly 3 million drug addicts, Russia today cannot afford to continue this situation for long. Russia understands Pakistan's importance as the key player in Afghanistan and its geopolitical significance.
Increasing ties between Russia and Pakistan is also a reflection of US’s deteriorating clout in the region. Russia feels that Pakistan can play vital role in bringing stability in Afghanistan. Probably this is one of the major reasons for Russia to develop closer contacts with Pakistan. While the end of the Cold war saw Indo-US growing engagement, Russia-Pakistan closeness was quite an expected move. Both countries are now trying to develop ties looking into their national interest.
Today Russia and Pakistan are trying to forget their past mistrust and suspicions. President Putin in his third term is trying to improve the relationship with Pakistan as part of Russia’s Asia policy. President Putin’s forthcoming visit to Pakistan after a long gap going to be first ever visit by a Russian President to Pakistan. This visit would create an environment for a new perspective for moving forward with optimism in growing the relationship. Though it is very early now to predict the strength of the relationship, however, as a first step, both are trying to establish regular contact, which is noteworthy. However, continuity in the relationship will definitely depend on both sides’ efforts and interest and on how much value and dependency the two countries show towards each other.
Dr Nivedita Das Kundu is a Foreign Policy Analysis and Assistant Director (Research) at the Indian Council for Social Science Research, New Delhi.
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