By Sajjad Shaukat
There are no permanent friends and enemies in international politics because friendship and enmity change in accordance with the states’ interests which are of primary importance.
In this regard, after having strong relationship with the United States for more than 60 years, a shift has occurred in Pak-US ties because of a number of reasons, and Pakistan has inclined towards the Russian Federation which also needs the latter. So a new era has started in Pak-Russia relations.
Sources confirmed that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar would visit Moscow in February to further boost bilateral relations between the two countries. Recently, the 7th meeting of the Pakistan-Russia Consultative Group on Strategic Stability was held in Moscow. The two sides discussed matters of mutual interest relating to international issues including arms control, nonproliferation and counter-terrorism.
On May 12, 2011, Pakistan and Russia agreed to promote trade, investment and joint projects particularly in energy, infrastructure development, metal industry and agriculture. In a joint communiqué issued after the meeting of President Asif Ali Zardari and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Kremlin, both leaders had agreed that this enhanced cooperation would help develop a strong bilateral relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interests.
Moscow has shown special interest in energy projects. A working group of both countries had met in October, 2011 to explore cooperation in this sector. Islamabad is interested in Russian investment in its oil and gas sectors as well as in heavy industries.
Russia has offered Pakistan counter-terrorism equipments. The package includes 10 MI-17 helicopters of unarmed configuration. When Russian military Chief Col-Gen. Alexander Postnikov visited Pakistan in May last year, he discussed with Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani—the possibility of expanding defence ties by holding joint military exercises, exchanging trainees and trainers and selling and buying weapons. Moscow has also offered to sell Sukhoi Superjet 100, a modern aircraft with a capacity of up to 95 passengers, while upgradation of Pakistan Steel Mills by Russia is being finalised.
Cordial relations with Moscow suit Islamabad’s long-term strategic interests as it seeks to diversify resources, especially in view of continuing problems with Washington that has hitherto been its biggest supplier.
During the Cold War, Pakistan was allied with the United States and the former Soviet Union backed India. However, Soviet Union’s arms sales to New Delhi and criticism of Pakistan’s position in the 1971 war with India weakened bilateral relations.
The U-2 incident in 1960—US spy plane was shot down by the former Russia and the pilot was captured alive. The fact that the plane flew from Pakistani territory enraged the Soviet Union. The Soviets threatened to bomb the Pakistani base if future missions were flown from it. In relation to the incident, Pakistani General Khalid Mahmud Arif had stated, “Pakistan felt deceived because the US had kept her in the dark about such clandestine spy operations launched from Pakistan’s territory.”
In 1974, the then Prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto visited Moscow. For the first time in the history, Soviet Union’s ties with Pakistan began to warm. His talks prompted the former Russia to establish steel mill in Karachi on its own expanse. However, after the American CIA orchestrated removal of Bhutto, tensions began to mount with General Zia-ul-Haq who opposed Soviet Union ideologically.
The two countries were bitter enemies in the 1980s when Pakistan became a frontline state of the US-led war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan—and also during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
After Pakistan joined US war againt terrorism in 2001, Russia vowed its support for Islamabad’s fight against the Taliban militants. In 2007, the relations between Pakistan and Russia were reactivated after the visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.
It is of particular attention that in 2010, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had stated that Russia was against developing strategic and military ties with Pakistan because of its desires to place emphasis on strategic ties with India. But Moscow changed its policy in 2011 when Putin publicly endorsed Pakistan bid to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and remarked that Pakistan was a very important partner in South Asia and the Muslim world for Russia.
In the recent years, besides, various annual summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which includes Russia, China and four Central Asian states including Pakistan and Iran, on 16 August 2007, in their summit, the leaders of the SCO displayed strength against the US rising dominance in the region and military presence in Afghanistan, near the region of Central Asia.
Notably, after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014, US has decided to establish six permanent military bases in the war-torn country having eye on the energy resources of Central Asia—with multiple strategic designs against Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia. Russia wants to get more involved in regional affairs to counterbalance growing influence of the US-led west in the region. It knows that Pakistan can play a key role in the Afghan endgame and for Russian interests in Afghanistan.
Besides, US President Barack Obama unveiled a defence strategy on January 5 this year, which calls for greater US military presence in Asia. Obama elaborated that the strategy also calls for the US military to “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region…even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding.”
As regards Russia, it opposes US intention to deploy national missile defence system (NMD) in Europe, while differences already existed between Moscow and Washington over the US-led NATO’s attack on Libya. Both Moscow and Beijing which favour multi-polar system in the world have opposed UN incremental sanctions on Iran, and US-Israeli war-mongering diplomacy against Tehran over peaceful nuclear programme of the latter.
Apart from the above mentioned strategic factors which have brought together Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan against the undue influence of the US, there are some other reasons which particularly compelled Islamabad to review its policy with Washington. In this respect, US perennial blame game against Pakistan Army and country’s intelligence agency ISI in supporting insurgency in Afghanistan and Haqqani network, backing subversive acts, Baloch separatism and deployment of espionage system in the country to destabilize Pakistan including America’s old maximum to do more against the militancy without bothering for public backlash had already worsened Pak-US relations.
Meanwhile on May 2, 2011, US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden by violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, while Pak-US ties received a further blow when on November 26, US-led NATO aircraft deliberately carried out unprovoked firing on two Pakistan Army border posts in Mohmand Agency, killing 24 troops in wake of US-backed intermittent infiltration of militants from Afghanistan, which killed a number of security forces in Pakistan coupled with drone attacks. In response, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership took tough measures such as blockage of the NATO supply to Afghanistan, vacation of the Shamsi Airbase, boycott of the second Bonn Conference on the future of Afghanistan, rejection of US investigation report in relation to the air strikes. Finally, Islamabad decided to reassess its engagement with the US.
It is notable that on November 28, 2011, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, commenting on the NATO cross-border air attack in Pakistan emphasised that a nation’s sovereignty should always be upheld, even when hunting terrorists.
As Pakistan is redefining its relationship with America, based upon mutual respect and especially assurance of Pak sovereignty, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman has recently been asked by Islamabad to stop visiting the country until Pakistan finalises review of its new partnership with America.
Nonetheless, new era of Pak-Russia relations has commenced and with the passage of time, both the countries will further strengthen their ties.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations