Russo-Pakistan ties strengthening By S M Hali

When Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan visited USA in May 1950, analysts opined that Pakistan missed a historic opportunity to develop close ties with the USSR. Critics believe that the Soviet Union had extended an invitation first and if Pakistan had accepted the offer, history would have been different. What many critics remain oblivious to is the fact that the date for the Soviet invitation was 14 August, which happens to be Pakistan’s Independence Day. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry requested for a change in date, which never came. USSR had made an overture to Pakistan first but after Pakistan’s request for a change in date, apparently the Soviets were offended and extended an invitation to India, which jumped on the opportunity.

The rest is history as Pakistan was extended warm hospitality by the US and even after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination in 1951, subsequent Pakistani leaders ensured that Pakistan was well entrenched in the US camp. The US invited Pakistan to join defence pacts SEATO and CENTO. It was the cold war era and the USSR considered all US allies to be inimical to Moscow. India, which was a pioneer of the Non Aligned Movement, became adept at running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. It maintained good relations with the USA but also cultivated close ties with the Soviet Union, which became a major defence hardware supplier for India and was willing to provide transfer of technology, which laid the foundations for India’s indigenous defence industry.

Pakistan, on the other hand became too close to the USA, going to the extent of allowing its western ally the use of its military bases. The 1 May 1960 Gary Powers incident exposed Pakistan to extreme danger. The US Central Intelligence Agency had been operating its reconnaissance U-2 flights to spy on the Soviet nuclear assets since 1958 from Pakistan’s air base at Peshawar. The Soviets were aware of the CIA’s espionage missions but lacked effective countermeasures as the U-2s were operating above 70,000 feet. On this fateful day, a Soviet SA-2 Guideline Surface to Air Missile successfully targeted the intruding U-2 and Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot was captured alive and the U-2’s secrets were unveiled. USSR was jubilant at its success, but the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev drew a red circle around Peshawar on the map and warned Pakistan that unless the U-2 flights ceased, Soviets missiles would target the launching pad.

Later events like the 1965 and 1971 Pakistan-India wars proved the futility of defence pacts with the US. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought the US and Pakistan closer again but placed the latter in Soviet cross-hairs.

The breakup of Soviet Union did not help matters and Moscow remained antagonistic towards Islamabad. Slowly the ice thawed as both countries realized each other’s importance and edged closer. Pakistan’s acceptance into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization smoothed out ripples.

Russia and Pakistan have participated in joint military exercises and stepped up cooperation in developing strategies to combat terrorism. Pakistan has backed Russian endeavours to bring about peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s defence needs were traditionally met by western sources, especially the US, France, Britain and Sweden. China has been a traditional ally of Pakistan and met most of Pakistan’s defence needs, including supporting the indigenous arms development efforts of Islamabad.

Russia and Pakistan have participated in joint military exercises and stepped up cooperation in developing strategies to combat terrorism. Pakistan has backed Russian endeavours to bring about peace in Afghanistan

Lately, Pakistan has expressed a desire to acquire Russian weapon systems. Recently, Pakistan has also shown interest in Russian fighter jets and attack helicopters, including the Sukhoi Su-35 and Mi-35M. During the 19th Meeting of the Council of the Heads of State of SCO, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan met Russian President Vladimir Putin in a very friendly and cordial way and it was well observed by international media as well.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also mentioned that he is happy Pakistan is moving “closer” to Russia in the “changing” world. And he further said that “Yes, we are looking for arms from Russia, and I know our military is already in touch with Russian military”.

It is much evident at international level that the power centres are changing and there are different power centres growing. Considering the present circumstances Pakistan’s ties with Russia keep improving.

The relationship, which was dogged by doubts in 1950, has come a full circle as Moscow and Islamabad edge closer together. This scribe has been participating in Moscow Conference on International Security for the last three years, which has been attended by defence ministers from nearly thirty countries and over 800 delegates. Moscow this year provided the delegates an opportunity to view its military hardware and it was heartening to observe that Russian Military Industrial capability has come of age in sophistication and lethality. Acquisition of Russian military hardware will be a boon for Pakistan and establish a firm foundation for solidifying Russo-Pak ties.

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