Asia is a goldmine of opportunities and choices for the major powers. Significant location of Pakistan in the region attracts major powers as well. Change in geopolitics with opportunities and choices leads regional states towards decisive shift in their foreign policy. Russia is opening eyes and looking to be a regional hegemon. Although Pakistan and Russia have no history of good relationship but the strategic realities gave birth to the current shift which is much positive for both Islamabad as well as Moscow.
Pakistan-Russia has past of adversary but today, both are welcoming the idea of building and stimulating strategic relationship. Pakistan wants to build better relationship with Russia to reduce dependency on United States. Islamabad wants to prove to Washington that it has as another strategic option if there is any tension happens between Pakistan and United States. Washington never likes Moscow’s influence in Islamabad. There are differences between Pakistan and the United States over drone attacks. According to some analysts American hegemony is near to end in the region and Pakistan does not like to become overly ally of United States and dependent on it. In fact, the increasing relationship between India and America motivates Pakistan to look for new friends and alliances. Pakistan also likes to drive wedge between India and Russia by improving relations with Moscow. Pakistan also has an eye of Russian military equipment supply and technology assistance that is better than China. Pakistan wants to gain much commercial incentive from Russia for example Karachi to Lahore Pipeline and Russia is also interested in renovation of Pakistan Steel Mill. According to some reports Russia may join CASA-1000 energy project providing electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On the other hand, today Russia is interested in Pakistan by its strategic location being very next to Afghanistan and Central Asian states. Although both the countries do not share borders but have same geopolitical space. Moscow has long considered Islamabad as a troublemaker for Russia and supporter of terrorism in the region. Russian motivation is to convince Pakistan to be moderate and subdue Islamic radicalization and militancy in the region. Pakistan is a Muslim state which has great influence in the Muslim world and Russia also has a large number of Muslim populations. Russia thinks that Pakistan can play vital role for the stable Afghanistan. Moscow hopes, after the withdrawal of American forces, Russia will find the strategic place in the region and then it will be able to play better role in the Indo-Pacific region. Russia also hopes that its understanding with Pakistan will decrease terrorism in Afghanistan and the region. It is also building relations with Pakistan to counter alignment between India and United States. Pak-Russia relationship can impede India from getting close United States. Indian tendency toward Israel and United States for advance weapons and technology encourages Russia to look for new markets for her arms sale. Moscow’s proposition to Islamabad, Pakistan can be a part of Russian strategy to play significant role in the region. On the issue of Ukraine, Russia is being isolated and has few friends in the international sphere. The aftermath Ukraine issue Russia is looking for new friends who may help her and challenge the West.
Islamabad and Moscow first time noticed each other in 2009 when Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan floated to promote regional security and economics. This quadrilateral idea held three meetings and did not take off due to cancelation of Putin’s expected visit of Pakistan for the fourth meeting in 2012. President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari had visited Russia in 2011 and Army Chief visited Moscow during 2012. There were reciprocal visits continued by ministers and high level officials of both the countries. Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pakistan in 2014 since the last 45 years. During this visit the both countries agreed on information exchange on politic-military issues; cooperation for promoting international security, counterterrorism and arms control actives; collaboration in various military fields and other areas of education, medicine, topography, hydrography, cultural and experience sharing in peacemaking efforts were signed. In August 2015, Moscow agreed to provide Mi-35Mhelicopter to Pakistan. Pakistan wished to buy 20 Mi-35Ms over the next year and got four helicopters in 2017. In addition, both the countries enhanced military relations and joint military exercises were made between the two armies under the slogan of Druzhbha (Russian word meaning friendship). Russian naval forces also participated in Aman-17 international exercise in Arabian Sea, hosted by Pakistan in 2017. Further both countries agreed about coordination against terrorism and drug trafficking. Russia had already cooperated in outer-space exploration and helped in launching Pakistani telecommunication satellite Al-Badar in 2001. It also had refurbished the only Pakistani steel mill.
An agreement of $2 billion for the North-South gas pipeline was signed in October 2015 which would connect Lahore to Karachi terminal. This agreement was signed on the first visit of Pakistan by Russian energy minister. 1100 kilometer pipeline is anticipated to be completed in 2018. The Russian company will complete this project and will use for 25 years. In the energy sector, both states are collaborating as well and have signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Moscow between Russia’s Gazprom International and Pakistan’s Oil and gas Development Company Limited on July3, 2017. The project will fulfill the energy requirement of Pakistan. This understanding was for mutual cooperation and joint ventures and use of state of art technology that would aid exploration and development in Pakistan. This is the beginning of commercial ties between these two countries.
The increasing cooperation between Pakistan and Russia should be viewed in the context of Afghan scenario which had created challenges for Moscow. Pakistan is considered an important country for the stabilization in Afghanistan. Without constructive involvement of Pakistan, the problems of Afghanistan and stability are a dream. During the Last six decades, very few Pakistani leaders and officials visited Russia. Whenever whoever visited yielded positive result; Tashkent declaration in 1966 and Pakistan Steel mills in 1970s.Pakistan has revisited her foreign policy during the 21st century and gave impotence to neglected states. When president of Pakistan visited Russia in 2002, a joint work group on strategic stability, counterterrorism and inter-governmental Commission were established. Regular meetings of these groups have been held since then. Russia also seems accommodating Pakistan. Russia condemned the Salala Post attack by NATO on November26; 2011and issued the friendly public statement. And it also supported Pakistan on closure supply to NATO in Afghanistan through Pakistan. Russia has supported Pakistan to be a member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) and to be part of Russian security mechanism. Shanghai Cooperation Organization is an important initiative to counter American influence and to bring peace and stability in the region. The membership of SCO will enhance the strategic and regional importance of Pakistan.
There is a strong potential of Pak-Russia relations in steel production, communication, and space technology and energy sector. Pakistan should embrace these choices because it has much learnt from past errors and mistakes. There is common perception in Pakistan that its policy of ignoring nearer countries and aligning the distant ones cost her politically, economically and strategically. These alliances could not become successful to achieve all ideals of Pakistan such as Kashmir issue and security against India. Washington has enhanced relationship with India and is projecting it as a regional power. It did not fulfill the promise which it had made in the beginning of the relations. It also did not make Pakistan a progressive and modern society but turned in to radical and fragmented society. In fact, the ideal of choosing the democratic west against the authoritative east resulted in long and consistent spell of dictatorship in Pakistan. Comparatively India chose the other way round always had a stable and functional democracy in the country.
Although Pakistan and Russia are being close but Pakistan will never jeopardize its relations with Washington. Washington is providing military aid and financial assistant to Pakistan but getting tension by Pak-Russia romance. Russia understands Indian concerns and believes that Moscow and Islamabad rapprochement will normalize the hostile situation between India and Pakistan. The historical back ground of India-Russia relationship is very strong and Russia will never like to lose India. However, it is expected that there will be a period of much more intensive and extensive interaction between these two countries. Pak-Russia rapprochement should not surprise the regional powers due to current geopolitical churn in global politics. Pak-Russia relationship may become true strategic partnership in future. If Russia improves strategic relations with Pakistan it might be able to influence Pakistan to play constructive role in Afghanistan and not to act against India. This would be a regional interest as regional powers like to see stability in Afghanistan. If Russia goes ahead to defense cooperation with Pakistan it would be detriment to Indo Russia relationship and Pakistan is a smaller market than India for Russia. Russia may lose some major contract which it has made with India recently. Both India and Russia have the history of relationship and India has never openly criticized Russian policies over Ukraine. And both the countries are members of several multilateral organizations like BRICS, RIC and SCO. Although India has expressed its concerns about Pak-Russia growing cooperation on several times but Russia believes that Pak-Russia rapprochement will normalize Indo-Pak hostile attitude. It seems that Pakistan and Russia are going to forge true strategic partnership.