At the end of the Cold War, Moscow’s influence and interest significantly declined in South Asia. However, after almost two decades there is an obvious change in Russian policies both on domestic and international levels. Changing patterns in Russia’s Asian foreign policy will directly affect the regional security environment of South Asia. Cementing Indo-US strategic partnership against China, historical India-Pakistan rivalry, and conflicting interests of great powers collectively made South Asia one of the most vulnerable regions.
In view of Moscow’s capabilities, its reorientation to South Asia will have significant implications for regional security in general, and Pakistan in particular. The relationship between Pakistan and Russia has been described by many as a tale of misunderstandings and lost opportunities. Pak-Russia relations have been just like a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs and most of the time they have perceived each other in a deleterious mindset. Pakistan’s foreign policy has been mainly focused on the western world while Russia has been strengthening its ties with India. In the past, both countries missed opportunities to cooperate with each other due to minor differences.
The historical back ground gives a clear picture that both countries have never been involved in direct confrontation but proxies have been a source of misunderstanding. However, the strategic landscape is changing now at a very rapid pace. As Russia is strengthening its political, strategic, and economic ties with Pakistan, it will open new avenues in almost all sectors. Recently, Russia has made agreements with Pakistan to uplift arms embargo, sold Mi-35 attack helicopters, and has negotiated a deal with Pakistan for SU-35 and SU-37 fighter jets. Pakistani and Russian Navies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on bilateral cooperation in the naval field.
But the decades old arch rival of Pakistan India, has been quite afraid of Russian-Pakistani relations, ignoring the fact that its increasing strategic partnership with the US is disturbing the Balance of Power in South Asia.
The Pak-Russia rapprochement indicates rearrangement in the South Asian region. Russia is a significant country because of its geopolitical outreach and great power status while Pakistan’s population, presence of nuclear arsenals and geostrategic location makes it a significant actor in international relations. The statements made by the Russian and Pakistani Defence Ministers after their interaction at this year’s Moscow Conference on International Security shows that the military relations between the two great powers are on the right track.
Pakistan is looking for diversification of its foreign and defence policy. It wants to maintain good ties with all nations and decrease its dependence upon the US
Moreover the two countries have a general consensus on undertaking counter terrorism and extremism operations in Pakistan. Pakistan introduced the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which is believed as an effective measure in fighting drug trafficking.
It is generally believed that it is not the climate change or environmental degradation that is affecting Pakistan but actually the policy formulation in its energy sector. Russia has abundant oil, gas and coal reservoirs and can help Pakistan in overcoming its growing energy needs. In addition, Pak-Russia civil nuclear cooperation will open new avenues for bilateral cooperation. The civil nuclear cooperation will fill the historical gaps between two states and will highlight the level of trust between them. Pakistan is looking for opportunities in civil nuclear cooperation in order to deal with the energy shortage.
Russia would be an ideal option for Pakistan because of its capabilities and experience. Pak-Russia civil nuclear cooperation will help Pakistan to develop a long-term comprehensive program to improve Pakistan’s energy sector. India received a waiver in 2008 that allowed it to engage in civil nuclear trade, Pakistan is also looking forward for such leverage by getting Nuclear Suppliers’ Membership (NSG) as it fulfils all the pre-requisites. Ambassador Alexey Dedov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Pakistan recently stated that Russia has no objections to Pakistan’s membership of the NSG. As long the dialogue between Russia and Pakistan continues on civil nuclear cooperation, there is prospectus of peaceful nuclear cooperation.
Likewise, the economic interdependence between Russia and Pakistan can be established by the consolidation of Eurasian Economic Union EEU via CPEC to South Asia and to the Indian Ocean and beyond. Pakistan can be a viable source of agricultural and textile imports for Russia. Russia has banned agriculture imports specially food from Europe. Pakistan can export agriculture products to Russia. Both countries should open track II channels for mutual collaboration.
In view of the changing geostrategic landscape, Pakistan is looking for diversification of its foreign and defence policy. It wants to maintain good ties with all the nations and decrease its dependence upon the U.S. Pakistan cannot afford to have all of its eggs in one basket. In a multi-polar world it is in the interest of Pakistan to have good ties with all states. Hence, the reset in Pak-Russia relations will increase Pakistan’s foreign policy options. Pakistan should pursue its relationship with Russia vigorously and keep it independent from its relationship with other countries.
The writer is M Phil Scholar, Visiting Faculty at Fatima Jinnah Women University
Published in Daily Times, August 6th 2018.