Tale of Pak-Russia ties

Over the last few years, Russia has attempted to develop relations with Pakistan, which has come as a surprise for many

Historically, the character of Pakistan and Russia’s bilateral relations have been defined by hostility and conflict with both state’s – directly or indirectly – working against each other’s interests in military as well as economic spheres. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s conflict with the United States, which intended to establish bilateralism in global affairs, placed Pakistan on the list of countries that Moscow planned to contain through all means including the country’s deep military might. In this regard, Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan reflects one major example where Pakistan and Russia went all out against each other’s interests with Islamabad mainly siding with the West, or Washington, and other regional states, primarily India and Iran, leaning towards Moscow.

Over the last few years, Russia has attempted to develop relations with Pakistan, which has come as a surprise for many. Both countries are expected to finalise a major military deal that would result in Moscow selling some sophisticated military hardware to Pakistan. Moreover, reportedly, Russia is investing huge sums to finance the construction of an 1100 km long gas pipeline in Pakistan. Last year, in an unprecedented move, Russia sent a contingent of troops to Pakistan which participated in a first ever joint military exercise between Islamabad and Moscow. In another rare episode, a week ago, a top military delegation from Moscow visited Pakistan’s tribal areas to view Islamabad’s military successes which the country has been able to accumulate during the course of last two years.

So why is Russia suddenly interested in developing relations with Pakistan despite the fact that the latter is an arch rival of Moscow’s oldest and closet allies in the region, India?

There are two major reasons that explain Moscow’s growing closeness with Pakistan. The first deals with an economic choke which the US has been able to inflict on Russia globally, particularly in the western markets in the wake of Russia’s military action that ended up annexing Crimea. Russia’s long held policy of reaching warm waters for securing global trade routes has led the country to use diplomacy as well as aggression to secure warm ports sitting beyond its icy extremities. One of the objectives of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan was reaching the warn waters of the Indian Ocean across Baluchistan through Pakistan. The bloody decade long fight in which Moscow remained involved in Afghanistan left Soviet Union in shatters with internal economic collapse resulting in the country’s balkanisation. However, even two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow is still willing to use its military power to occupy ports and regions that may fulfill the country’s decade’s long policy:

Moscow’s recent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region was by and large driven by Russia’s long term trade interests which demand that Russia diversify its accessibility of trade routes if the country envisions becoming a global economic power.

In China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ global project, Pakistan’s China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is of utmost significance

The rapidly changing geopolitical and geo-economic heartland of the world requires that Russia grow its economic reach towards the east. In that context, China’s global economic infrastructure project, which connects Central Asia that sits in Moscow’s neighborhood to Europe and beyond, presents a valuable opportunity for Russia to develop and expand its economy independent of Washington’s pressure. In China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ global project, Pakistan’s China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is of utmost significance, for arguably the success of the overall project likely depends on whether the part that sits in Pakistan’s becomes operational or not. Therefore, it’s in Moscow’s own interest that stability, economic as well as security, returns to Pakistan’s all volatile regions.

The second reason that deals with Russia’s growing diplomatic presence in Pakistan is attached to Moscow’s security interests in the region. Clearly Washington’s indifference towards Afghanistan’s worsening security situation under Trump has given space to Moscow – along with China – to deepen its presence in the country in order to fill any potential vacuum which may emerge due to the US’s departure. The presence of the Islamic State (ISIS) along with other militant groups in Afghanistan directly poses a threat to Moscow’s regional economic and security interests. Moscow has hosted number of meetings along with China and Pakistan to formulate a regional plan to counter growing ISIS threat in the country.

On the whole, Pakistan’s stands to gain from its partnership with Moscow, for the deepening relations will converge both countries’ military and economic interests further. Pakistan on its part can use its relations with Russia not just to send a message that the country is not isolated as often claimed by India but can also use to diversify its economic relations that historically have remained dependent on few countries.

Cleary, the newly emerging World Order is being dominated bygeopolitical and geo-economic dimensions where cooperation is the way forward rather than competition and confrontation that exited during the Cold War.