Evolving Pakistan Russia Relations

After the partition of the sub-continent and emergence of Pakistan in 1947, then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was invited by both the former Soviet Union and the United States to visit their respective countries. In the beginning the Relations between Pakistan and Russia were missing the warmth that later indulged in their ties.  The cold war period was also cold with regards to relations between the two countries. From Russian point of view, good relations with Pakistan act as a counterbalance to the United State’s inclusive influence and could bring another partner in support of its security aims in the region. Russia hopes that improving ties with Pakistan gives it pull at two levels. One, it will get hold of an advantage on issues of terrorism and on Afghanistan by building better relations with Islamabad. Russia-Pakistan relations have many invariables and variables as well. Invariables could be acknowledged as geography/Afghanistan, historical perspectives and the India factor. Variables are Russian defence and energy surpluses, US hostility towards Kremlin, China and our market. The post-Soviet resumption of relations between Russia and Pakistan, the past Cold War rivals, started in 2011 when ties between Pakistan and United States were not the same as earlier. Pakistan has decided to approach Russia in order to expand its foreign policy options.

Therefore, at that stage Military diplomacy (and exchanges) led the plan. While having a look of the many evident factors it becomes clearer that Pakistan and Russia inhabit common neighbourhood, with Afghanistan remaining an obligatory attribute. Both countries are in favour of stability in Afghanistan. Russia very much in desire to prevent the growing drug smuggling through Tajikistan while keeping the Central Asian republics which are its traditional backyard free from any radical persuades. While emulating the similarity in the stance both Pakistan and Russia are supporting an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” solution.  In the projected economic cooperation with Pakistan, Russia is said to have an investment portfolio of $14 billion in gas infrastructure. The $2 billion North-South gas pipeline project from Karachi to Lahore, agreed in 2015, is another sign of economic cooperation. The Islamabad Moscow security partnership has fortified and extended since late 2014, when the two countries signed their defense cooperation agreement. The evolving strategic environment in South Asia, in addition to changing power arrangements at the global level, has led to various imperative, yet strange, association patterns. Russia and Pakistan, once Cold War opponents, are encouraging bilateral ties across different spheres. One can effortlessly gaze the cordial relations between the two countries which is actually exhibition of new foreign policy directives.

The relations between the two are not only limited to defense sector, but can be seen in the economic and development sectors. Russia has time and again supported Pakistan’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) membership bid. Russia is also energized and having positive intentions regarding China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and it is showing interest to link CPEC with its own Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project.

Such large-scale infrastructure projects could change Pakistan into a transit hub. According to the most recent UN World Investment Report, Pakistan received around US$2.1 billion (S$2.82 billion) of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2020. This number is basically insignificant when compared to India’s FDI influx of US$64 billion (SG$85.9 billion), regardless of the fact that the world economy being hit by the pandemic. Outside investment and support, mainly from China, have been noteworthy to Pakistan’s economic and industrial development. Yet, there are challenges to draw investments over the years. In this feature, the Russian efforts to incorporate the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with the BRI can provide Pakistan with a wonderful opportunity to attract more investments.

The leadership from both sides also appears to be very much pragmatic regarding building the new phase of relations. Russia both countries are negotiating potential energy deals worth in excess of $10 billion. In 2018, Russia appointed an honorary council in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, where the efforts are in progress to build an oil refinery and a power station. Pakistan and Russia has also signed an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) on energy, paving the way for Russian state-giant Gazprom to enter negotiations to supply LNG to Pakistan. The longing to expand bilateral relations between Moscow and Islamabad should be explored for a new beginning aimed at strategic, political and economic convergence through consultations on the developing security architecture in the Asia pacific region as well Greater Eurasian Region. Moreover, as Pakistan is a large and significant Muslim country and Russia has a large Muslim population of its own, Moscow sees advantage in enhanced bilateral relations. Pakistan china and Russian alliance is something the analysts around the world are not only talking about but are also concerned enough to discover more.

The varying dynamics of the region can further be dominant to build more future directives but one thing is very much evident that the relations between Pakistan and Russia have already taken another commute. On issues of mutual and supreme importance both countries have constantly supported each other. There are other areas where Pakistan Russia economic partnerships can be strengthened. The relationship is now out of the wood and moving forward on some better dimensions. Pakistan and Russia have made substantial attempts to strengthen the relations, particularly in the past 15 years.

The recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Pakistan has confirmed to be an optimistic omen in terms of connecting the gap.  During his visit he said that “we have provided 50,000 doses of anti-Covid vaccine to Pakistan and intend to provide 150,000 more”. He further added that “both countries were considering a new protocol on the ‘stream gas pipeline project’”.  He further highlighted the implication of trade ties for both nations. He also highlighted the requirement of mounting the Pak-Russia Trade by 46pc. During the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister, the both sides have decided to conclude the North South Gas pipeline that has been renamed by both sides last year in November as the “Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP) Project.”

Apart from renaming the pipeline, there is slight further agreement about the sharing of shares where the official estimates propose that Russian side will obtain 26 per cent of the shares from this project. Islamabad will look after the Pakistani side of interests, while Moscow will handle the logistics and monetary affairs. There is no doubt that Pakistan is one of the profitable markets for energy requirements, as the domestic gas demand has augmented due to enormous continuing industrialization, making Pakistan to look for new sources. This significant project will assist Pakistan to accomplish its energy needs in an improved approach. It is also significant to note here that this pipeline will offer an outstanding market to the Russian companies and will lend a hand to improve the demand for non-oil exports.

The defence ties between both countries are also very much evident. In November 2014, Russian Defense Minister visited Pakistan in and signed a defense cooperation agreement with Islamabad. After that Russia and Pakistan conducted their first joint counternarcotics exercise, which was followed by a second one in December 2015. In summer 2015, then Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif visited Moscow.  Three months afterward, Russia signed a deal for Pakistan to buy Mi-35M Hind-E assault helicopters. In September 2016, Russia and Pakistan conducted their first key joint military exercise. This was the first public symbol of the nature of Russia–Pakistan military relations. In March 2017, a Russian senior military delegation visited Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and studied Pakistani border management and counterterrorism strategy. In August 2017, Pakistan received four more Mi-35M Hind-E helicopters. Subsequent to these procurements, Russia and Pakistan started a series of joint military exercises, such as the Arabian Monsoon naval drills in 2014 and 2015. In 2017, the Pakistan Navy organized the Aman naval exercise, which integrated the contribution of 35 countries. In this exercise, for the first time, Russia’s largest antisubmarine warship Severomorsk also participated. In addition, both militaries are conducting joint exercises, initiated with the Friendship-2017 military exercises, involving about 70 military mountaineers from Pakistan and the Russian mountain infantry division of Southern Military District held in the mountain range near Nizhny Arkhyz settlement in Karachay-Cherkessia, Russia, in September 2017. The defence ties between both countries have seen a visible change and indeed this change is proving to be a positive one for both ends.

It is also a fact that India is a bigger market for Russia, Pakistan’s growing geo-economic connotation, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan’s positive role and influence in Afghanistan, and the market it provides for Russia’s defense industry emphasize the fact that Moscow’s interests in South Asia are not limited to India any longer. In the swiftly shifting international and regional security milieu, Pakistan is amending and discovering new avenues for new coalitions and associations to protect its regional and global interests. The new chapter in relations between Pakistan and Russia is leading the way towards prosper avenues. It is imperative for Pakistan to keep building such partnerships to cope with the regional and global challenges.

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About Saima Zaman 40 Articles
Writer is the Assistant Editor ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’, ‘The Asian Telegraph’ & Project Coordinator (COPAIR); a degree holder in communication & media sciences.