The Russia-Pakistan Perception Paradigm By Sarfraz Ahmed Rana

The tales of Russia and Pakistan relations and how the perception paradigm evolved, over time, originates when the twins named, India and Pakistan, emerged in 1947 from the womb of a frail and sickly British imperialism. Despite sharing the common womb of the mother, two were poles apart in nature. The former brother, namely India, was constitutionalist, secular and democratic, whereas the latter younger twin comparatively week, confronted the grave issues and problems from its early days, however, chose to pursue the discourse of confessionalism.
Pakistan, the first-ever confessional state of its kind, however, embarked her journey on a bumpy road has a lot of arduous challenges to sail through. The internal factors however vital to run a sovereign state from political institutions, constitutional arrangements to strong defence and economy lacked completely. Whereupon the external factors had been as worst as the internal one, the world had not been recovered fully from the aftershocks of the Second World War and witnessed yet another expedition at a global scale. The policy of two great powers, the US and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), had a shift in the approach from wartime cooperation to the postwar ideological conflict.
Given the brief historical overview and considering the internal and external factors, Pakistan has to build her foreign relations in such an apprehensive international environment in which the world had been squeezed between the withering ideological conflicts of two powers. Since the beginning, Pakistan adopted somewhat less careful approach in finding the diplomatic equilibrium between the US and the USSR and seemed to have lost the equilibrium from the early days of its creation; opening the first American diplomatic mission to Pakistan almost the next day of its independence on August 15, 1947, whereas Pakistan established its diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, as late as in December 1949, after the delay of two years and four months.
In contrast, the diplomatic equilibrium had been the central tenet of the Indian foreign policy following the nonaligned approach during the cold war. Despite the Soviet paramount leader, Joseph Stalin’s contempt to Nehru, who once cited Nehru as a “running dog of imperialism,” writes the former Indian Prime Minister I K Gujral in his book named foreign policy of India, had not changed the Indian diplomatic position of nonalignment. The Nehru’s acclaimed leadership skills were cognisant of the fact that foreign relations have always been driven either by objective factors or policy preferences, not by personal preferences or individual likes and dislikes.
The first real direct contact between the Soviet and Pakistan was materialised in the efforts of Raja Ghazanfar Ali, the first ambassador to Iran who enjoyed a warm relationship with the Russian diplomat stationed in Iran. The effort was initiated at the behest of Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan, who felt deprived and offended by the US President Truman’s invitation to Nehru to visit the US first. The attempt made appeared to have carried quick results of formal invitation letter to visit Moscow signed by Joseph Stalin was handed over to Pakistan on June 4, 1949 (though the nonexistent of invitation letter in official archives from Moscow made the fact of receiving the written invitation ever fiercely contested one in Pakistan) which was never honored but the following year in May 1950 Liaqat Ali Khan paid the maiden state visit to the United States. Pakistan’s dismissal of Moscow’s overture was the first blow to the perception of Pakistan.
As Burke and Ziring accurately describe the sentiments of soviet leadership in their book on Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, “Liaquat’s cold-shouldering of the Soviet Union sorely wounded the pride of the Soviet leaders who are highly sensitive to political snubs of any sort. Moscow’s grievances on the subject were amply expressed to Pakistani diplomatists for years to come.”
The crucial moment to adopt one of the careful neutral foreign policies was wasted at the price of the wrong perception in the minds of soviet leadership. Yet the relation between the Soviet Union and Pakistan remained relatively calm and managed under civilian role from 1947 to 1954.
In the following years, Pakistan virtually has no independent foreign policy but guided by Uncle Sam who just replaced the role of John Bull in United India. In 1955, Pakistan bit more than it could chew by declaring the war against communism by entering the US-led military alliance of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). And this point followed the American “Do More” Mantra which exits till this day. However, the policy of the Soviet Union was changed; compelled to toe the pro-Indian line and backed the Indian stance on Kashmir.
In 1955, Pakistan bit more than it could chew by declaring the war against communism
A few years later, in 1959, the fatal decision was made, when the Field Marshal Ayub Khan in order to ensure the American interests, signed a ten years lease for an American base at Badaber, Peshawar in Northwest of Pakistan to fly the Lockheed designed U-2, known as the spy in the sky from Pakistan into Russian territory. A small country took the much more risk in letting the covert U-2 fly out from its territory against nuclear power to who the even US fear.
And then, On May 1, the damn thing happened when Soviet underestimated special ground-to-air missiles SA-2 downed the American state-of-the-art U-2 plane number 360 in Soviet airspace nearing Sverdlovsk and captured the pilot Francis Gary Powers alive. The Plane took off from the Pakistani territory on a mission assigned to take the photographs of some of the key launching facilities by violating the Soviet frontiers. The tragedy of the US plane took the world by surprise. The American self-confidence was shattered. A panic and threat of nuclear war followed but somehow common sense prevailed and the second nuclear war was avoided.
On May 9, at Kremlin, Nikita Khruschev, cornered Salman Ali, the then Pakistan’s Ambassador to Russia and heard quoted “Peshawar has been marked red on our map”. It was believed that Khrushchev took the U-2 incident as a personal insult. Yet another blow to Pakistan’s perception has registered in the Soviet leadership circles. The matter of U-2 sowed the seeds of permanent suspicion and animosity between Soviets and Pakistan in the years to come.
The Soviet retribution was exacted on Pakistan in the seventeen-day war of 1965 with the massive provision of military hardware to India and later in 1971 by signing the twenty years of Soviet-Indo treaty of friendship and cooperation which helped achieve India enough to dismember Pakistan. In the end, it was Pakistan’s own bad foreign policy decisions that pushed the Soviet Union hard towards India that once considered the “running dog of imperialism” now was the strategic partner. But the American so-called friends and their Sixth Fleet never appeared to rescue a friend in need. The disgruntled people of Pakistan, however, took the Soviet role in the breakup of Pakistan on their hearts and the perception about the Soviet an enemy grew in strength.
Under the first elected government of Pakistan, despite the destructive role of the Soviet Union in East Pakistan, a clear foreign policy tilt towards the USSR was witnessed, as a result, the relation between two countries improved massively. In 1972, Pakistan’s Parliament passed the resolution to establish ties with the Soviet Union. The first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto embarked on his first-ever lengthy trip to Moscow which helped reduce the tensions between the Soviet Union and Pakistan to the great extent. Arguably the two decisions proved to be the death warrant of the Prime Minister of Pakistan; his firm stance to acquire nuclear capability even eats grass and goes hungry and his refusal to accept the dictation over the matters considered vital for Pakistan especially to adopt the balanced foreign policy between US and USSR.
The American having extensive experience in imposing and deposing regimes within the six months of hurling a threat of making a horrible example out of you removed the elected Prime Minister in a staged military coup and installed the military dictator Ziaul Haq who kept his allegiance well to the United States in the final years of Cold War.
A decade under a military dictatorship whose due course lasted little more than ten years was one of the worst periods in the country’s history. Pakistan turned as a mercenary state on the US assigned engagement and become the vital pawn of a Western grand alliance against the Communism. Zia stoked the religious sentiments that led to the arousing of national fervour through a religious appeal against Communist infidels. The Politics-Pulpit alliance under a military dictator played an important part in the first Afghan war against the Soviets. The Operation Cyclone was accomplished, and the American friends took the next flight back home left Pakistan behind to deal with the mess they created and how much price Pakistan was made to pay is part of history.
Pakistan, however, had proven itself a vital hand servant in the service of Americans at the cost of its own broken international relations and endangered foreign policy and created an eternal enemy in the extended neighbourhood, therefore, created the perception gap between Russia and Pakistan in the years to come which is yet to be bridged.
The people of each side guided through the sequence of mishaps during the cold war made the strong case of perception against one another and viewing each other an enemy country to this day. There is an urgent need of active diplomacy to push the agenda in the fields of culture, supports, tourism, academia, interparliamentary dialogues and in other policy spheres to sweep over the memories and wounds of the cold war and to reset the perception paradigm.
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